The following message was delivered to an assembly in Central Florida on Sunday, September 16, 2001

Photo by Ruben Dominguez (AP)
Photo: NYC Sept. 16, 2001

Black Tuesday:
Reflections on Another Day of Infamy

by David West

Some of you are old enough to remember the unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 -- "A day that will live in infamy." I am old enough to remember where I was the day President Kennedy fell to an assassin's bullets, the day President Reagan was shot, the moment I learned that the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on its way to orbit, and a few other such events. I will also forever remember the moment I saw two hijacked commercial airliners crash into the World Trade Center twin towers in New York City. September 11, 2001, will go down as another day of infamy. Defining events like these don't come often in one's lifetime; but, when they do, the moment is indelibly etched in one's memory, never to be forgotten.

My prayers go out to all those who have lost their lives simply for being American. My heart goes out to the thousands of families who have been affected by such a hideous assault on freedom everywhere.

Today, preachers all over our shocked and grieving nation will try to make sense out of what appears to us to be a senseless act of callous cruelty. Here are my reflections after almost a week of watching this incredible and monumental series of events unfold.

They think they serve God

Jesus warned his disciples that there would be some who would persecute, imprison and even kill them thinking they were doing God a favor (John 16:3). Saul of Tarsus was one who fulfilled those words as he wreaked havoc on the early Christian church. He believed he was doing the work of God in arresting, imprisoning, torturing and killing Christians at every opportunity (Acts 26:9-11). After his remarkable conversion to the Christ he had once sought to destroy, he became the apostle Paul and was subjected to the same sorts of persecutions he had inflicted on others (Acts 9:15-16; 2 Corinthians 11:22-33). Yet, late in life, he would solemnly testify that he had lived his whole life with a clear conscience (Acts 23:1).

Is it possible that this week's suicide bombers did their dastardly work with a clear conscience? If so, can we clearly see the absolute need to train our consciences according to truth and reality and to investigate all things carefully before reaching convictions that might lead us to take drastic action to bring the world into conformity with our theology? "But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:21,22).

They came to their religious conclusions in the same way most Americans have come to theirs -- based on the influence of teachers they respected and admired.

If they believed that their actions would put them on the fast track to a prominent place in heaven complete with their own harem of virgins, I believe today they know the error of that belief. But, why must we wait until we die to learn we are living at cross purposes with God? Why must we inflict harm on others while deluded?

How many of us believe what we believe simply because someone has told us it is "the will of God" and we have assumed they were telling us the truth? How many of us are just as misguided (though hopefully not as violent) as these terrorists?

Truth is not determined by how many believe it, how long they have believed it, or how sincerely they have believed it. Jesus said, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). And, "Sanctify them in thy word; thy word is truth" (John 17:17).

If the apostle Paul commended those who would take time to investigate what he taught and compare it with established Scripture, how could it be safe for any one of us to accept the word of lesser men without carefully and daily "searching the Scriptures to see if these things are so" (Acts 17:11)?

Are you guilty of blindly accepting the word of men without comparing it to the word of God? "Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar" (Romans 3:4; compare Galatians 1:6-9). "And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God's message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe" (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Identifying the enemy

The enemy that we fight against is all around us and among us. It is omnipresent. Men like Osoma bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are simply some of the most notorious pawns of the true mastermind of evil. His name is Satan. His weapon is sin.

Jesus told his first century adversaries that the Devil is a murderer and a liar and has been so since the beginning (John 8:44). He is father to those who imitate him.

The Apostle Paul warned us not to be ignorant of Satan's strategy and methods (2 Corinthians 2:11). He is a powerful, crafty and sly adversary. "Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).

The battle we fight is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers in the heavens. Therefore we must put on the complete armor of God, become proficient in its use, and depend on God in prayer if we are to hope to win the battle we all find ourselves in (Ephesians 6:10-20).

"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God..." (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). The battle is a battle for our souls, our minds, our loyalty and our service (Romans 6:16).

The battle between God and Satan has been going on since before the foundation of the world and will continue until the end of the world. The issue of who would win was settled two thousand years ago, as three days after his death the crucified body of Jesus rose from the grave victorious over death (1 Corinthians 15).

Let us unite together and face our well-known common enemy -- Satan. Sin is what brought sorrow, sickness, disease, suffering and death into our world. As horrible as it is to contemplate thousands of innocent civilians being slaughtered at the hands of terrorists, Black Tuesday was not the blackest day in history, or the greatest miscarriage of justice. Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, came to deal decisively with sin. He was tempted in all respects like we are, but never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). This innocent Man was beaten, humiliated, and executed without mercy on Black Friday, now known as Good Friday only because of the glorious resurrection by which he overcame death and sin.

Freedom comes at a price

Our spiritual freedom came at the cost of the blood of the sinless Son of God (Acts 20:28). Our political freedoms came at the terrible cost of the blood of many thousands of Americans whose names and faces we did not know or perhaps do not remember. Maintaining that freedom in the future will cost many more lives.

No greater love is shown than the bravery and heroism shown by those who die that others might live (John 15:13). May God bless those men and women who courageously move to the front lines into harm's way to stand between us and those who would take these freedoms away from us.

With freedom comes responsibility. Freedom doesn't mean you can do whatever you want. We must not selfishly use our freedom to fulfill our lusts. We are free from sin (Romans 6:18). We are now free to love and serve our fellowman (Galatians 5:13).

Becoming what we abhor

Watching Palestinians rejoice to hear news of the attack on America turned my stomach. But, to see some of us terrorize loyal citizens whose only "crime" is being from the Middle East sickens me just as much. How does that make us any different from the enemy who is assaulting us? We must not stoop to blind vigilantism or a lynch mob mentality. Nor let us gloat when the genuinely guilty face retribution. Let us not become a part of the evil we abhor.

Our minds are filled with questions

Many questions race through our minds at a time like this. I don't know if I have the best answers for each of these questions, but I will give you the best I have.

Does the fact that evil exists prove that God does not exist? No. It would be more valid to argue that the existence of good in the world proves the existence of God. But, the fact that we can speak in terms of good and evil acknowledges our confidence that there is a way things "ought" to be. A sense of "ought" presupposes a God who has established moral law.

Why, then, does God allow this kind of evil to take place? One of the things that distinguish man from the rest of God's creation, is the power of choice. We each are given the privilege to choose between right and wrong, good and evil. God hopes we will choose his way. His law is designed for our good (Deuteronomy 10:12,13). But, many choose a path of rebellion against God. God is not the author of evil, nor does he tempt men to sin (James 1:13).

Without the ability to choose, we would be mere robots and our love and obedience to God would be meaningless. "Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve...but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:14,15). "...I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life..." (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Where is God in all this? He is right where he was when His Son died on the cross. Though he doesn't stop the consequences of man's evil intentions and actions, he did come to earth as a man to experience it for himself. Whatever sort of pain or sorrow comes into our lives, he has been there and overcame it in his own life.

I also see the influence of God in all of the compassion and assistance being demonstrated by police, firefighters, military, doctors, nurses, helpful store-owners, loyal neighbors and loving family and friends. God is the God of all compassion and comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). He teaches us to show his compassion to others who are hurting. He tells us that what we do for one of the least of his children, we do it to him (Matthew 25:31-40). And he also takes personally any mistreatment of his children (Matthew 25:41-46; Acts 9:4).

Does God care about what happened? Because he doesn't prevent us from suffering loss and grief, he is sometimes charged with being indifferent and uncaring. This would be a mistake. Jesus, by his life among us, shows us the heart of God (John 1:18). If you have seen him, you have seen the Father (John 14:9). At the tomb of his friend Lazarus, Jesus wept with Mary and Martha in their sorrow (John 11:36). The suffering he went through for us qualifies him as a sympathetic and merciful High Priest (Hebrews 2:14-18). He is touched with the feelings of our infirmities. We can now come boldly before his throne of grace to receive help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

While we were still sinners Christ died for us, the ungodly (Romans 5:6-10). What greater love can a man have than to die for his enemies? If God did not withhold even his own Son when we needed him, how could he withhold anything that we needed (Romans 8:32)?. Nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:35-39).

The Old Testament book of Job shows us that it is not God who is being tested, but us. Job discovered that God can be trusted even when life seems darkest and when he seems far away, uncaring and silent. "Though he slay me, I will hope in him" (Job 13:15).

Though we do not receive a detailed explanation to all of our questions, we can trust Him to be in control and to be working all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). As Joseph would say to his brothers who were guilty of treachery against him, " meant it for evil, God meant it for good" (Genesis 50:20).

Why those particular people? What did they do to deserve this? In the gospel of Luke, Jesus was quizzed concerning a couple of recent local tragedies: one was governor Pilate slaughtering some Galileans while offering sacrifice to God (deliberate slaughter) and eighteen people who had been crushed by the collapse of the Siloam tower (accidental death). When asked if the fact that these things had happened to these people proved that they were worse sinners than those in Jerusalem that had escaped their fate, he replied, "No. But I tell you, unless you repent, you will likewise perish" (Luke 13:1-5).

Here Jesus teaches that when tragedy comes into the life of another, we ought not ask "Why them?," but instead "What if that had been me?"

It may simply be the fact that we live in a dangerous world. Many times we are just the victims of circumstances -- being in the wrong place at the wrong time. "I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise, nor wealth to the discerning, nor favor to men of ability: for time and chance overtake them all. Moreover, man does not know his time: like fish caught in a treacherous net, and birds trapped in a snare, so the sons of men are ensnared at an evil time when it suddenly falls on them" (Ecclesiastes 9:11-12).

Since death could come to any one of us at any given time and place, the correct response is to be certain that if that had been me, I would have been ready to meet God in judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10). Never allow tragedy to go by without engaging in self-reflection on your own relationship with God and your own preparation to face judgment. Until you are ready to die, you are not ready to fully live. Live each day as though it were your last; some day it will be.

The book of Revelation tells of the blowing of the seven trumpets. These trumpets served as a warning of impending judgment. After the sixth trumpet was blown affecting one-third of the earth (a partial judgment), the sad announcement is made that it did not have its intended effect. "And the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts" (Revelation 9:20-21). What was intended to drive them to humble repentance was not effective. They stiffened their necks, closed their eyes and ears, and hardened their hearts against the call to forsake their sin and wicked ways. Do we allow the tragedy that comes into the life of others to drive us to self-inspection?

Are we listening to the warning to "flee from the wrath to come" (Matthew 3:7)? Do we realize that "it is appointed unto man once to die, and after this comes the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27)? Do we understand that "it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31)? Do we accept both "the goodness and severity of God" (Romans 11:22)?

The apostle Paul used his knowledge of the terror of the Lord to motivate him to take the gospel to those unprepared to meet God (2 Corinthians 5:11). "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!" (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Jesus, in prophesying the Roman destruction of Jerusalem (national judgment serving as a prototype of the final judgment) warned of sudden judgment coming when people are engaged in the normal everyday functions of life -- eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage (Matthew 24:37-39). Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day or the hour" (Matthew 25:13).

He will return when we least expect him, as a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:2). Didn't we on September 11, 2001 taste how suddenly and unexpectedly such things can come upon us? We can never repent too soon, because we never know when it will be too late.

Ask God to help you identify what you need to change. "Search me O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way" (Psalm 139:23-24).

Is America ripe for judgment from God? No country, including the United States of America, is invulnerable to evil or beyond the reach of divine judgment. It is a false pride which suggests otherwise, as ancient Nineveh, Babylon, Tyre and Rome all bear witness.

God's message through his prophet Obadiah to haughty Edom still warns wise souls today. "The arrogance of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in the loftiness of your dwelling place, who say in your heart, 'Who will bring me down to earth?' Though you build high like the eagle, though you set your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down, declares the Lord" (Obadiah 3-4). Surely today we have lost some of our arrogance of invincibility.

The phrase "in God we trust" must be more than a motto on a coin. It must motivate and describe a manner of life. America has been richly blessed by God, but God is not indebted to America.

"Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people" (Proverbs 14:34). Let this be a new day of repentance and revival in America. And let the revival begin with me. Let it begin with you.

Our Founding Fathers knew that our nation's protection was ultimately in the hands of God. God was no idle spectator when our country was birthed; he is no idle spectator today. Both blessing and judgment belong to him. He can accomplish either according to his will.

"If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Psalm 11:3). It is imperative that America returns to God! For nearly a half-century, we have forsaken the moral principles of Heaven. We have legally murdered too many unborn babies. We have too readily accepted aberrant sexual behavior. We kicked God out of our schools, out of our homes, and out of our hearts. As a result, has God allowed us a little taste of Hell?

Taking responsibility for own evil

Why do we become so incensed about these atrocities, but not at the wickedness that we personally perpetrate? How many one-on-one evils are committed in our city every day. It is so easy to see what is wrong with sin when its mask of respectability is torn off and we view it in its most crude and vulgar form.

But, all of us must bear some of the responsibility for the evil that is in the world. We have all done our part to feed it and sustain it. How can we say anger, envy, pride, hatred, revenge are good in us, but bad in terrorists? This week, in our city, in every city in this country, how many lied, gossiped, stole, cheated, cursed, lusted, got drunk, cheated on their mate, divorced the wife of their youth, or abused a child? And the list goes on. If all the evil that takes place in our city in one day was bundled together and viewed as a single act it, too, would be horrific.

You who would condemn another, are you guilty of the same (Romans 2:21-22)? Let's end the hypocrisy and take the beam out of our own eye (Matthew 7:1-5).

President Bush says he will make no distinction between those who commit the crimes and those who harbor, support and encourage them. The apostle Paul provided a representative catalog of sins and said that those who do such things are worthy of death, and also those who take pleasure in them (Romans 1:28-32). How long will we glamorize sin through our entertainment and idolize those who flaunt their immorality?

How you can help

The government must fight the violent terrorists through force. The rest of us want to know what we can do to help. I will tell you what we can do. We can repent! We can live right, according to the principles of truth and godliness. We can seek to turn the hearts of our neighbors and friends to God. We are so eager to fight against this invisible enemy that has caused us so much pain. Will we take up the fight in our own hearts and souls? Will we seek to eliminate the suffering and pain we inflict on each other every day? That is something we can do.

Let us build our lives upon the rock of obedience to God so that when the storms of life come (as surely they will) our house will not be swept away by the flood (Matthew 7:21-28).

The need of the hour is more than a call to patriotism; it is a call to repentance and revival. "If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14).

And may God help our repentance to not be like the morning fog and dew that disappears when the sun rises (Hosea 6:4).

Lessons to be learned

Prayer is needed. In a time like this, when we are overwhelmed with shock and grief, helpless to restore what has been lost and fearful of further loss, we instinctively turn to God in prayer.

The Psalmist spoke often of his need for God when his life was in danger, when his enemies were all about him seeking his destruction. He saw God as his defender and protector. He saw him as a mighty fortress and defense. He fled to him for refuge. So must we.

We must pray for the dead and dying, for those who are bereaved of their loved ones, for our children, for our nation, for ourselves. We must pray for the brave volunteers who work tirelessly to help the hurting.

We need to pray as never before for our leaders who must make important decisions regarding the future direction of this country (1 Timothy 2:1-2). What is needed is wisdom. If we lack wisdom, let us ask God (James 1:5).

And here is one group we are likely to forget in the middle of this. We must also pray for those so filled with hate as to do such a thing. Jesus said, "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:43-48). God loves them as much as he loves us (John 3:16). Jesus died for them as much as he did for us (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). His prayer for them would be as for those who so violently took his life: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).

Recognize the frailty of life. We may have had the illusion of invulnerability. But, an illusion was all it was. We have always been vulnerable. Life has always been fragile. God must always be included in our plans (James 4:13-16). Let us number our days so we can apply our hearts to wisdom (Psalm 90:12).

Walk in faith, not fear. If we become fearful, the terrorists win. The antidote for fear is faith. Don't fear men. "And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28; see Proverbs 29:25).

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me" (Psalm 23:4).

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change; and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride....The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold" (Psalm 46).

Don't put your confidence in military might or international alliances. There is no genuine security other than from the Lord. God frequently warned his people not to depend on their own military strength or on their allies for safety.

King David was once severely punished by God for taking inventory of his military troops contrary to the will of God (2 Samuel 24;1 Chronicles 21). He was putting his confidence in his own military strength rather than in protection God would provide.

I think we need to beef up our military and intelligence. But, more importantly, we need to beef up our faith and morality.

Don't trust in riches. The symbols of our wealth and power have either been destroyed or disfigured. Is it possible that the twin World Trade Towers were our modern Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), built to the heavens as testimony to our wealth, power, and pride? Could some see such buildings as proof that we don't need God? How swiftly the error of that conclusion has been demonstrated.

Put your treasure in heaven for safekeeping (Matthew 6:19-21). Don't be like the rich fool who was rich in money but not toward God (Luke 12:15-21).

Tragedy reveals mankind at its worst and at its best. We see the goodness of man and the evil of man. Some will use this as an opportunity to serve their neighbor; others will use it as an opportunity to exploit and increase the suffering of others.

God warned the enemies of his people not to harm them as they fled from disaster. "Do not enter the gate of my people in the day of their disaster. Yes, you do not gloat over their calamity in the day of their disaster. And do not loot their wealth in the day of their disaster. And do not stand at the fork of the road to cut down their fugitives; and do not imprison their survivors in the day of their distress. For the day of the Lord draws near on all the nations. As you have done, it will be done unto you" (Obadiah 13-15).

Whatever your character, it is revealed in such tragedy. So is your faith. "If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead, being by itself" (James 2:15-17).

Tragedy identifies your true friends. Fair weather friends disappear. True friends remain at your side and offer their assistance. In the past, other nations haven't often come to our aid when needed, though we have come to their aid. Perhaps this time will be different.

Tragedy helps us see what is really important. Political issues that divided the country now seem so insignificant. Sports activities were seen as matters of "life and death." Today they seem so meaningless. Now we realize that people are more important than things, the soul is more important than the body, and God is most important of all.

Hope is the anchor of the soul. The hope of heaven guaranteed by great and precious promises, given by a God who cannot lie, serves as " anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast...." (Hebrews 6:19-20).

As the prophet Jeremiah sat weeping over the great city of Jerusalem as it lay in smoldering ruins at the hand of the Babylonian army, he uttered these great words of faith: "This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease. For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, therefore I have hope in him" (Lamentations 3:21-24).

Whatever happens now or hereafter, we can hope individually in God. Every one of us will die -- unless Jesus returns first. We come into this world facing death. The only uncertainties are when we will die and how.

Yet there is no place for panic, no time for terror. The prophet Habakkuk waited for the sword to fall on his own nation, helpless to change the course. Even so, the faith-filled finale in Habakkuk chapter three remains a model expression of confident trust in God when all else is gone. "Yet I will exult in the Lord. I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and he has made my feet like hinds' feet, and makes me walk on my high places" (3:18-19).

Stay balanced in your thinking. Truth is usually paradoxical. It usually has two sides that on the surface seem contradictory. Yet, to ignore one side of the truth because it is unpleasant or difficult is not an option for those who love truth.

Examples of what I am speaking about include the fact that God is sovereign (in absolute control), yet he gives us the option of rejecting his will. He is bigger than the universe, but he is very near to every one of us. We are saved by grace through faith, but we are required to obey to benefit. The list goes on.

In our present lesson, we must see that God is love, but he is also a consuming fire. God hates the sin, but he loves the sinner. So must we. We must not seek revenge, but we must pursue justice.

One other paradox that needs to be addressed is the difference between my obligations in personal relationships and the government's obligations in protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty.

Many people, in seeking to adopt the attitude of Jesus, are contending that our country must "turn the other cheek" (Matthew 5:39) and "overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). That is true as individual citizens. But, as we teach one another to accept mistreatment and abuse in our daily lives with one another, we must not ignore the other side of the coin. The civil government was created by God for a specific purpose and to fulfill a specific mission.

God has charged man with taking the life of the murderer. "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God he made man" (Genesis 9:6). Though we are to "never pay back evil for evil to anyone" (Romans 12:17) and "never take your own revenge" (12:19), a few verses later God tells how government is assigned the duty to take vengeance for evil on this earth.

"For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil" (Romans 13:3-4).

We are charged with submitting to governmental authority "as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right" (1 Peter 2:14).

Turning the other cheek and forgiving murderers is not an option for governmental authority. It is God's minister to protect the innocent, punish the guilty, and put fear into the hearts of those who would commit crime.

A call to action

Who will join me in seeking to save this great nation of ours? Who will step forward and stand in the gap to help bring this great nation back to God? You are invited to make an impact on eternity. Will you serve the purpose of God in your generation (Acts 13:36)? "'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?' Then I said, 'Here am I. Send me!'" (Isaiah 6:8).

David West
14121 19th Court
Dade City, FL 33525 USA
(352) 567-1508

Text copyright © 2001 David West.
Unlimited permission to copy text without alteration or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

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