Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Listen

I wrote a song called "Listen."

It's written in the perspective of a first century drop-out shepherd who hears the good news from the angel that Jesus Christ, the savior has been born this very night. I chose this perspective because for the shepherds this news meant everything. They were leaping for joy, they were bursting with excitement, their lives were forever changed. This got me thinking how I would react if I were in their shoes that warm night. It got me thinking ...

How do I react to the good news that a savior has been born that I might be born again?
What does the good news mean to me?

These are the questions that are reflected in the song. The take-away of "Listen" (for me) is capitalized in the bridge where I wrote a paraphrase of the host of heaven's armies singing out at the top of their lungs, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace among those who He is pleased with." Or as I word it ...
when it's all about Him (glory to God in the highest)
peace comes to men (peace to whom God is pleased with) like those that glorify Him!

The song for me is a reminder that the good news isn't just a Christmas carol, it's a daily encouragement that Christ has saved me and calls me to respond to His good news by the way I live for Him.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Zombies!



Zombies. They're all the rage these days. Undead people going after the survivors of some sort of post-apocalypse. These people aren't quite dead and aren't quite alive. And the result is scary! Can't the same be the said of Christians? Let's ask the hard questions: Are we truly alive in Jesus Christ? Have we truly died to our sins? Maybe we're more like Zombies than we think. This song is about that thought. Here are the lyrics, music to come:

LISTEN TO IT HERE: http://music.sutros.com/songs/25562/Justin_Ahlgrim_-_Zombies.mp3

ZOMBIES
By: Justin Ahlgrim

I flip on the TV and I see
a raging zombie on the screen
A young woman shoots him just right
between where his old eyes had been

I think to myself could that be me?

Are we just zombies?
     Not really alive in Christ within
Are we just zombies?
     Not really dead to all our sin
Are we just zombies?
     Feeding our hate on our own kin
Are we just zombies?
     Just a shell of a man

I look in the mirror and I see
the man I am supposed be
I keep on making up excuses for me
And make the same mistakes daily

I think to myself could that be me?

Are we just zombies?
     Not really alive in Christ within
Are we just zombies?
     Not really dead to all our sin
Are we just zombies?
     Feeding our hate on our own kin
Are we just zombies?
     Just a shell of a man

But Christ can bring the dead to life
if we would just admit our sin
the truth may hurt but we will be
better than the way we've been

But Christ can bring the dead to life
if we would just admit our sin
the truth may hurt but we will be ...

more than a zombie
     Not really alive in Christ within
Are we just zombies?
     Not really dead to all our sin
Are we just zombies?
     Feeding our hate on our own kin
Are we just zombies?
     Just a shell of a man

I look in the mirror and I see
a zombie staring back at me


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What Went Wrong With "The Dark Knight Rises"



As I was watching "The Dark Knight Rises" I had a painful memory come back to me: Spider-Man 3 (the movie that never should have been). The third Spider-Man movie took the worst parts of the previous films and showcased it. Christopher Nolan's Batman 3 has made the same mistake. I'm guessing it'll have the worst DVD sales of the whole series. By the end of the film I told myself, "The only reason anyone should watch this movie is to find out what Nolan did with his Batman." Other than that, there's not many redeeming qualities to go around. Here are the issues I have with the Dark Knight Rises:


  1. Where's Batman? - for a Batman movie, there sure wasn't a lot of him in the film. And the places he was in were formulaic (I'm here to save you Catwoman!), forced (I need to fight Bane in hand to hand combat and lose!), and unnecessary (why pumble Bane with a bat-plane when i can use my fists!)
  2. Disappointing plot - The "big reason" for Bane's mask was super-lame. The pit where Bruce is put in clearly acts as a more of a metaphor than a reality that makes any sense. The Batman Begins-esque "twist" at the end didn't carry the devastation it should have. And the list goes on and on
  3. Too over the top - What made "Dark Knight" awesome was that it depicted what it would be like if Batman existed and lived in Chicago (when you think about it). It was totally cool! When we get to "Rises" we find a nuclear bomb in a "siege-warfare" type city with underground cops (literally and figuratively). We find that somehow Alfred knows by happenstance deep and dark secrets about Bane's past as if this is common knowledge. It's all a little too over-the-top. 
  4. Emotion when there's none - By the third Alfred-to-Bruce heart-to-heart monologue I was like "enough already!" Each monologue was great, but with 3+ together it was too much. The love connection between Bruce and lady-friend was randomly fast and forced.
  5. Character motivations - Bruce sits around and does nothing for 8 years waiting for bad guys to come? I don't buy it. At the end of Dark Knight he's clearly up for the challenge of taking the murder charge. At the beginning of Rises he's turned out to be a wuss for 8 years. It's bogus. And debilitating for his character and his strength.  
What would have been better: bring in bane early as an assassin (not a terrorist) to kill bruce wayne in his prime as batman. bring in talia early. Enter lazurus pits in the middle east with the return of rahz al guhl. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sea Shell


I wrote this new song called "Sea Shell." I wrote it while I was walking with my 8 month old daughter, Amelia, on Long Beach in Oak Island, NC. Staring at the tide ebbing in I thought about the sea shells and how un-special they are, all things considered. Many and most lie dirty, stuck in the sand as wave after wave and tide after tide takes control of helpless them. Caught between the ocean and the dry land, they lay devoid of any specialty or notice ... unless of course, someone picks one of the shells up, washes it off, and claims it as their own, showing off the shell that once was ugly and stuck nowhere, just how beautiful it has become.

In my walk with Christ at that moment, I felt like a sea shell. I felt stuck. I felt like I was simply shifting with the high and low tides of the world instead of the thankful knowledge that I have been saved from being stuck in worldliness by the risen son, Jesus Christ who took me up and made me new. 

I hope you enjoy "Sea Shell." Here are the lyrics:

Sea Shell
By: Justin Ahlgrim

Find me. Find me out.
And take me from this ground.
Wash me.Wash me clean.
Renew me for I have been

Like a sea shell stuck in sand
I'm longing for dry land
But this shore won't let me go

And every shell's enslaved to the tide
And every man's enslaved inside
Unless a man comes it takes it out
Unless Jesus saves me Himself

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Text Message From God

Text Messages From God
My Own Insights From The Book of Ephesians


Chapter 1: A God Who Calls Us To More Than I Thought
Read chapter 1 of Ephesians. I'm currently reading it in the New Living Translation here

Here's what stuck out to me:

  • "This letter is from Paul ... an apostle" (v. 1)
    • I'm reminded that this book is a big deal. It's not written by a "hot off the presses upcoming Christian author or cultural leader" like David Platt, Joel Osteen, Francis Chan or so on and so forth. This isn't written as a self-help book, it's not just a fad. This is Scripture. This is God-inspired words, text messages from God to us, a snippet, a letter condensed and packed with theology and truth that we can hold on to. This is from an apostle, a first follower of Jesus that did miracles, survived with miracles, and wrote 1/3 of our New Testament. This is a big deal that I can't just shrug off or read through passively like Collins' The Hunger Games. This book is something I need to slow down with. I need to take my time and meditate on Ephesians. I need to, as Joshua 1:8 exhorts, "meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success." God calls us to view this as more than just a book, it's a text message from God.
    • APPLICATION: I need to take more time with not only Ephesians, but all my future reading. 
  • "All praise to God ... who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing" (1:3)
    • wait ... what? spiritual blessing? Many Sundays I have sung "Praise God from whom all blessings flow" but what "blessings" am I singing about? a big house? a dog? nintendo wii? minivan? Are these the types of blessings we should rest our faith on? Should we believe in God so that we can be blessed with physical, tangible riches? Some would say yes. Paul would say no. I'm not saying that we shouldn't thank God for our circumstances, I'm saying we should thank God even in the worst of circumstances, physical/monetary/financial blessings present OR absent. Paul here writes in verse 3 that we should specifically focus and give praise to the God because He gives us spiritual blessings: The Holy Spirit. Salvation. Forgiveness. Peace. Love. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Joy. And these we have because we are united with Christ. God calls us to be thankful for more than just the physical world around us, but for the spiritual reality within us. 
    • APPLICATION: I need to remind myself that when my "physical blessings" are failing with a check-engine light or a stopped up drain, that I still have much to be thankful for directly from God. And that's what I should focus on. 
  • one specific spiritual blessing Paul mentions is this: "Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure" (vv. 4-5). 
    • There are 2 main views of how the act of salvation is played out in Christian thought today: Armenianism & Calvinism
      • Armenianism is like a swimmer caught out in the ocean by the tide. When they realize they are drowning they call out for help. The Lifeguard who has always been there for people, hears him drowning, and comes and saves their life. God is the lifeguard saving those who admit their need for Him and repent.
      • Calvinism is also like a swimmer caught out in the ocean by the tide, except this time ... they drown. The Lifeguard comes, rescues the victim from the sea and breathes new life into them. God is the lifeguard, saving those who cannot save themselves.
    • Both these views have nuggets of truth in them. As Ephesians 2:8 says, "By grace you have been saved through faith." Both God's giving grace, and man's admission of trust/faith is needed for salvation. The order of how that happens is interpreted differently by the Armenian & Calvinist camps. 
    • But ... I mean, just read Ephesians 1:4-5 for yourself! How can you be anything but completely amazed and humbled that God would specially adopt us into His family, not because we did anything, not because we said a sinner's prayer ... He did this before the world was even created and He did it for His good pleasure. Why didn't He adopt everyone? That's a good question and that's what Armenian's like to ask. But regardless of that question, we have to accept the truth from Ephesians 1:4-5 that God doesn't just know who's going to be Christians (foreknowledge), God chooses them Himself (predestination).  God calls us to know that we were called by Him
      • APPLICATION: This fact (of God's preordaining of salvation) can bewilder and keep you up at night. I've gone back and forth on the train myself. This fact is made however to humble us, for us to be thankful to the God who "showered His kindness on us" (v. 8) when we didn't deserve it, a God who rescued us from ourselves.
      • This fact can also make people mad outright. Angry. Flippantly opposed the fact that God would not equally and universally save all people or all religions or all things in the way they see fit. This is why the Church exists. Jacob literally wrestled with God and He was renamed "Israel" which means "wrestles with God." Israel became a people group known for following the one, true God. As Christians, we believe we are the new Israel, the fulfillment of all of God's promises. As we, the Church, are Israel, are Jacob, let us wrestle with God too, and not struggle through this truth that God predestined and adopted us into His family alone. 
  • "when you believed in Christ He identified you as His own by giving you the Holy Spirit whom He promised long ago" (v. 13)
    • Do you know for sure you're going to Heaven when you die? Because Paul says you can know for sure. The Holy Spirit is a seal, a promise, a sign that yes you are truly, really saved and God is doing a work in you. What does the work of the Holy Spirit look like in a believer? Galatians 5:22-25 says, "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control... those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit." That's what a spirit-filled life looks like. If your life looks like that because of your faith in God, you likely have the Holy Spirit and are saved and you should know where you're going when you die. And as v. 13 says, the moment you believed, really truly believed that Jesus Christ came from God and died and rose again for your sins, you became saved and were given the gift of the Holy Spirit in you. We don't need to live life in salvation limbo. God calls us to believe and know that we are saved and not to perpetually doubt our salvation
    • APPLICATION: Sometimes I doubt that I'm a good enough Christian. That's okay. That's conviction of the Holy Spirit. That's meant to inspire me to be more Holy, not to depress me to fear that I'm damned. Let's not misinterpret the work of the Holy Spirit in a believer's life. 
  • Understanding Is Really, Really Important
    • "He has showered His kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding" (v. 8)
    • "I pray for you constantly, asking God ... to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God" (v. 17)
    • "I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope He has give to those He called" (v. 18)
    • "I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God's power" (v. 19)
      • Wow. Recently I've been telling my youth (and myself) something important: none of what i'm doing in ministry is important unless they're truly loving God and loving others. Those two loves are the two most important commandments according to Jesus. If I'm not loving God and loving people then any worship I do, any doctorate I obtain, any suffering I do for the cause of Christ is completely useless (1 Cor 13:1-3). The focus and result of my preaching should be love above all else, and if its not then the purpose of my preaching needs to be altered.
      • However, knowledge and understanding of God and His ways is important too. Sometimes we don't know how to love others and God effectively without more knowledge and understanding of God. It was Paul's hope and constant prayers (!) that the Church would be full of wisdom, insight, and knowledge from God. That's not a mistake. Paul's not saying love isn't the most important thing anymore. I think what He's saying is that knowledge has the power to change the way we love God and others. And that's really important. God calls us not just to love Him but to understand Him
      • APPLICATION: It's okay for me to teach Scripture that's more knowledge-oriented than "love oriented" because seeking after God's knowledge and wisdom can be an act of love itself. And that knowledge can lead us towards how and why we love God as well. 
  • "The Church is His body; it is made full and complete by Christ who fills all things everywhere with Himself" (v. 23)
    • This is a hard verse to interpret. 
      • The NLT Study Bible team comments, "This difficult phrase probably means that the church, as his body, is the full expression of Christ in this world." 
      • The ESV Study Bible team comments very similarly: "The church, filled by Christ, fills all creation as representatives of Christ."
    • So, with this interpretation and Scripture in mind, we're given a stunning truth that God is calling us to know: As the Church we are THE way that Jesus is choosing to save the world ... amazing. We see this truth in other places too, that as Christians we are Christ's ambassadors (2 Cor 5:11, 18-20) given the task or persuading people to give their lives over to Christ and we can do this because the fullness of Christ dwells within us, His Church and body. God is calling us to step up in our responsibility of evangelism because we have Christ-indwelled confidence
    • APPLICATION: Evangelism's hard. And awkward. Even and especially with people you know and people who know you all too well. But that's where evangelism is most effective. That's how disciples are made (and by the way, that's what Jesus wants us to make, disciples of longevity, not converts of happenstance). I need to be more aware and unashamed of living the gospel out in word and speech particularly with non-believing friends, family, and neighbors. They need to be saved. The Church (including me) is the fullness of Christ and is the only way to save them. The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Am I going to sit on the farm of the world and watch crop upon crop grow, become unharvested and die? Or am I going to work the harvest and start being a little awkward and bring up what Jesus is really doing in my life at family gatherings. Am I going to invite my neighbors over for dinner? Am I going to be a Jesus ... freak at least a little more? I hope so. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I'm Selling My Car

I'm selling my car. If you're interested in purchasing a car or know someone who is, please direct them to this web page.


1997 2-Door Pontiac Grand Am GT 
Asking Price: $1100 
Seller Lives In: Rochelle, IL

This is a great starter car and its very reliable despite its age & mileage. Here's some specs:
  • 2-door
  • Lots of trunk space
  • Automatic Headlights
  • Heat/Air Conditioning work great
  • Ipod/Mp3 Player Stereo System
  • Electric Sunroof
  • GPS dock
  • Locked glove compartment
  • Hide-a-key system
  • Manual windows
  • Spare Tire + Jack
  • Power Steering
  • Front & Rear Defrost
  • Cruise Control
  • Anti-Lock Brakes
  • Driver & Passenger Airbags
  • Mileage: Over 235,000 miles
Here's some work I've recently put into it:
  • 4 new tires
  • new starter
  • new belt
  • new headlights
  • new coolant chamber (its airtight!)
If you're interested, please contact me (Justin) at my cell phone # at any time: 630-995-6283 to ask any questions about the car or make a test-drive appointment. And I have the deed to the car ready to be signed off today so call soon! I live in Rochelle, IL.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Real To Me


It took me quite a while to realize that I was a dad ... about 9 months actually. For Deb, she felt like a mommy the moment she found out she was pregnant, and as the baby grew inside her it responded more and more to her and only made her feel more special every day. For me, it was like a creepy alien was living in my wife. Very creepy sometimes to see her belly literally and sharply rise because some sort of living organism is inside her uterus.

Anyways, it never really hit me that I was a father and that Deb and my child was very real (and very human) until she was born on that crazy October morning. I wrote this song to describe my feelings:

Real To Me
By: Justin Ahlgrim

You made your mommy smile 
when she first saw that line
You made your mommy giggle 
when you kicked the first time


You made her crave for cheese and eggs 
when you grew big around
And when you had your hiccups, 
how you made her belly bound!


But you became real to me 
when I first heard you cry
You became real to me 
when I first saw your eyes
You became real to me, 
as someone that I wanted to live for 
You became real when you were born

*You can listen to the song using the player below:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Surprised By The Gospel In Esther



Surprised By The Gospel In Esther

Esther is a fun, short little book that I certainly haven't read in a long while. I can see why its placement in the Bible is controversial (Theologian Martin Luther found Esther to be very questionable in the Christian canon). For, there's no direct mention of God and the Jews take a very violent turn at the end, certainly taking advantage of the new Esther-inspired-edict of the King to "fight back" freely against Haman's old Hitler-esque edict that the Jews should be "destroyed, killed and annihilated, both young and old, women and children, in one day ..." (3:13)

At the same time, I was surprised by how much Esther was gospel-oriented and is connected to the Bible in so many ways. Here's the gospel that I saw lying underneath the subtle words of God in Esther:

  • "But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage [to 'worship' Haman]" (3:3) which reminds me of Shadrach, Meshach and Abendego in the book of Daniel who refused to bow down and pay homage to the gold statue that King Nebuchadnezzar set up (Daniel 3:14-18)
  • the King says to Esther, "What is your request? It shall be given to you, even to the half of my kingdom"  (5:3) which reminds me of Herod, who loved and respected John the Baptist, and said the same thing to Herodias, "I will give you whatever you ask, up to half of my kingdom" (Mk 6:23). In Mark, Herodias (unlike Esther) used it for a chance for evil, but in Esther, she uses it as a chance for good 
  • Before Esther decides to risk her life to ask the king to save her people (the Jews), she has the Jews of Susa, herself, and young women with her, fast and pray over the decision (4:15-16) which reminds me of the first Christ-followers who fervently prayed and fasted before making big decisions (Acts 14:23). 
  • And finally, we have the most famous statement from Mordecai's lips to encourage Esther to risk her life to save her people as he says, "who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (4:14) which of course reminds me of Romans 5:6 which similarly proclaims, "When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners." Esther was appointed by God, at just the right time, to save her people from Haman's evil edict. Jesus Christ was likewise appointed by God, at just the right time, to save His people from their sins (Mt 1:21). 
Lesson? 
The Gospel is laden within all the words of Scripture, even controversial books like Esther, Revelation and Songs of Solomon, and even in books that vastly differentiate from our current culture like Leviticus and Corinthians. No book should be ignored because when it all comes down to it, the Gospel is what the Bible is all about. The Gospel is the weaving, uniting thread that brings together a book written over thousands of years by over 40 different authors in multiple languages yet inspired by the one living, breathing, true God. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sometimes Church Feels Like A Cage



I was reading 2 Timothy 2 today. I was struck with Paul's perspective, how even though the church has failed Him in some ways (1:15), even though now he is literally chained like a criminal for preaching the gospel  (2:9), Paul endures and holds fast still for the sake of the true Church that they too might obtain salvation in Jesus Christ. And He endures it all with one certain saying in mind. Paul writes,

"I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for: if we have died with Him, we will also live with Him. If we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. Remind them of these things ..." 
--2 Timothy 2:10-14a


I relate to it, because I'm a minister like Paul. And I have tough times with my church myself. And while I'm not literally chained, sometimes I'm frustrated by the spiritual, emotional, and relational chains of the world around me that hinder the work of the gospel in their lives and mine.

But Paul endures remembering that one saying. So I want to endure remembering that one saying and having others learn it as well. I wrote a song to remember it. Here are the lyrics, a recording may come later:


SOMETIMES CHURCH FEELS LIKE A CAGE
By: Justin Ahlgrim

sometimes-church-feels like a cage
and worship sung just onstage
and my faith's bound up in chains
to a pulpit that doesn't understand me

the pews are filled with criminals
who steal and lie for themselves
and we pretend we're not in hell when
the shiv of gossip stabs us in the back

but the Word of God is not bound
Jesus Christ is not underground
Therefore let us endure
and make our election sure

if we have died, we will live
if we endure, we'll reign with Him
If we deny Christ, He will deny us
yet when we're faithless, He remains faithful

so let us put away these chains
confess our crimes and mend our ways
and make peace with those profaned
by me the man who was only born once


if we have died, we will live
if we endure, we'll reign with Him
If we deny Christ, He will deny us
yet when we're faithless, He remains faithful



we don't have to be criminals anymore
cause we're born again, you see
a new life awaits us
It's for freedom that Christ has set us free
It's for freedom that Christ has set us free
It's for freedom that Christ has set us free
It's for freedom that Christ has set us free


if we have died, we will live
if we endure, we'll reign with Him
If we deny Christ, He will deny us
yet when we're faithless, He remains faithful

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Power Up! That's What The Holy Spirit Is About, Right?


Power Up! That's What the Holy Spirit Is About, Right?
A Look at 2 Timothy 1:6-7

You've heard the words before: "God gave us a spirit, not of fear, but of power!"

When the Spirit first came upon the Disciples at Pentecost they were filled with the Spirit and spoke with boldness. When Jesus left to go battle temptation with the Devil Himself, He was full of the Spirit. The Spirit ... the same spirit ... inside of us as Christians is the Spirit that is boldness. We don't need to be afraid of the gospel. We don't need to be ashamed of sharing what Jesus is doing in our lives and what He has done for all of us because we have a boldness that comes from having God Himself inside us ... that's pretty fantastic. And for a long time, I'm pretty sure I thought that's where 2 Timothy 1:6-7 ends, "not of fear, but of power!" I mean, in every cultural reference of the Spirit, that's what's always pointed out, isn't it? The unabashed boldness of the spirit? But in actuality, the Scripture doesn't end there. 

The full thought reads like this: 
"I am reminded of your sincere faith [Timothy], a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.  6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands,  7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control."
--2 Timothy 1:5-7  

Fan into flame the gift of God ... because God gave you a spirit ... of power and love and self control. 
That's the uninhibited exhortation. Use your gifts Timothy, and don't be afraid, because the Holy Spirit within you is one of power and love and self-control.

How I Apply This To My Life
  • POWER/BOLDNESS - The Spirit within me encourages me to preach with the power that comes from God, to be inhibited in calling out sin, in preaching truth when it hurts, in telling non-Christians about Jesus no matter how I might be treated because of it.
  • LOVE - The same Spirit within me encourages me to love those same people, to go beyond talking at them and move towards serving them, to sharing life with them
  • SELF-CONTROL - The same Spirit within me calls me to not overstep my bounds, to use discernment and restraint, to listening quickly and speaking slowly, to not quarrel with others needlessly.

What it means to "fan into the flame of God," and use the spiritual gifts God has given me through faith, is not to hoard them over people because God's given me a spirit of "power," but to not be afraid to use them. And to love others while doing it. And to watch what I say. 

Power comes with a price: responsibility. That's why Paul adds "love and self-control" to the Spirit of power. Because I have heard people abuse this Scripture verse and have it mean that God has given us a Spirit of unabashed boldness that has a regard to Christ alone and not others. But the Scripture points to something different.

The Scripture points to exercising our gifts with an empowered boldness matched with love and self-control for others. 

Anything less is from us and not God. 




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