Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Neal A. Maxwell General Conference Highlights: October 1999 - October 2003

I just wanted to do some Neal A. Maxwell highlights. He was one of my favorite speakers; every talk felt like it could be added to Ecclesiastes. When I gave a lesson in EQ a few months ago, there was one elder in his 20's who said he never really paid attention to Conference growing up so he didn't remember ever hearing a Maxwell talk. A pity.

Maxwell had been diagnosed with leukemia in 1996, but through modern medicine and many prayers, he managed to hold off the inevitable for eight years.

OCTOBER 1999 - "Lessons from Laman and Lemuel"

Brothers and sisters, on very thin pages, thick with meaning, are some almost hidden scriptures. Hence we are urged to search, feast, and ponder (see John 5:39; Alma 14:1; Alma 33:2; Moro. 10:3; 2 Ne. 9:51). Especially, however, we should also do more of what Nephi did, namely “liken all scriptures unto [ourselves]” (1 Ne. 19:23).

Illustratively, words which we should so “liken” occur twice with regard to Laman and Lemuel, mistakenly regarded by some as merely “stick figures.” Consider, therefore, how the applications of these next words go far beyond those two: “And thus Laman and Lemuel, … did murmur … because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them” (1 Ne. 2:12; see also Mosiah 10:14).

Failing to understand the “dealings” of the Lord with His children—meaning His relations with and treatment of His children—is very fundamental. Murmuring is but one of the symptoms, and not the only consequence either; in fact, brothers and sisters, this failure affects everything else!

To misread something so crucial constitutes a failure to know God, who then ends up being wrongly seen as unreachable, uninvolved, uncaring, and unable—a disabled and diminished Deity, really—about whose seeming limitations, ironically, some then quickly complain.

Early on, Laman rejected the role he should have played, and, instead, wanted to be “top dog in the manger,” resenting all the while Nephi’s spiritual leadership. Lemuel was not only Laman’s dutiful satellite, but he was also his enabler by allowing himself to be “stirred up” by Laman (see 1 Ne. 16:37–38). If, instead, Laman had been fully isolated, certain outcomes could have been very different. We have enablers in our society too. They allow themselves to be stirred up against that which is good. They are not entitled to a free pass any more than Lemuel. Like him, their comparative visibility is low, but their hypocrisy is high!...

Laman and Lemuel did not understand the relationship of mortals with God, and, worse still, they did not really want to understand. They sought to keep their distance from God. Furthermore, being intellectually lazy, they did not count their blessings, when gratitude could have lessened the distance. But it was never inventory time for Laman and Lemuel.

Laman and Lemuel also displayed little lasting spiritual curiosity. Once, true, they asked straightforward questions about the meaning of a vision of the tree, the river, and the rod of iron. Yet their questions were really more like trying to connect doctrinal dots rather than connecting themselves with God and His purposes for them. They certainly did not “liken” the answers to themselves (see 1 Ne. 19:23).

APRIL 2000 - "Content with the Things Alloted to Us"

In just a few words, a major insight came to the conscientious and the converted through Alma: “For I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me” (Alma 29:3). However, just prior, Alma urgently desired to be the “trump of God” so that he might “shake the earth” (Alma 29:1). But not because of ego; in fact, Alma wanted to declare repentance and the plan of redemption to all mankind so that there might be no more human sorrow (see Alma 29:2). Yet Alma’s contentment rested on the reality that God finally allots to us according to our wills (see Alma 29:4). What could be more fair?

Thus becoming content with his calling, Alma then meekly hoped to be an instrument to help save some soul (see Alma 29:9). A significant spiritual journey is thus reflected in but nine soliloquy-like verses.

The same contentment awaits us if our own desires can be worked through and aligned.

What some mortals are allotted includes, for instance, very reduced chances because of poverty: “And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches” (3 Ne. 6:12).

Furthermore, malevolent, human social structures have included, in the past, tragic constraints like slavery and concentration camps.

Nevertheless, we are to do what we can within our allotted “acreage,” while still using whatever stretch there may be in any tethers. Within what is allotted to us, we can have spiritual contentment. Paul described it as “godliness with contentment,” signifying the adequate presence of attributes such as love, hope, meekness, patience, and submissiveness (1 Tim. 6:6)...

Life’s necessary defining moments come within our allotments, and we make “on the record” choices within these allotments. Our responses are what matter. Sufficient unto each life are the tests thereof! (see Matt. 6:34).

Meanwhile, people regularly sell their souls for much less than the whole world. In Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, Sir Thomas More is soon to be martyred, partly because his friend Rich, having been bought off by a local office, has betrayed him. More, “looking into Rich’s face, with pain and amusement,” speaks: “For Wales? Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world … But for Wales!” (A Man for All Seasons [1960], 92). Let this same rebuke hold for any preoccupation which preempts us from spiritual things!

Ponder how Jesus was and is the Lord of the universe (see D&C 45:1; D&C 76:24; Moses 1:33; Moses 2:1). Yet His ministry, as we all know, was accomplished in a very tiny geographical space. His ministerial travels were very limited. Yet therein the Savior accomplished the Atonement for all of mankind! There were certainly much more prominent hills than Golgotha and much more resplendent gardens than Gethsemane. No matter; these were sufficient to host the central act of all human history!

We can draw upon that glorious Atonement by repenting. We can learn to serve and to forgive within our sample of humanity, including settings no larger than the family or friendships.

OCTOBER 2000 - "The Tugs and Pulls of the World"

For true believers, the tugs and pulls of the world—including its pleasures, power, praise, money, and preeminence—have always been there. Now, however, many once-helpful support systems are bent or broken. Furthermore, the harmful things of the world are marketed by pervasive technology and hyped by a media barrage, potentially reaching almost every home and hamlet. All this when many are already tuned out of spiritual things, saying, “I am rich, … increased with goods, and have need of nothing “ (Rev. 3:17).

Contrastingly, the perks of discipleship are such that if we see a stretch limousine pulling up, we know it is not calling for us. God’s plan is not the plan of pleasure; it is the “plan of happiness.”

The tugs and pulls of the world are powerful. Worldly lifestyles are cleverly reinforced by the rationalization, “Everybody is doing it,” thus fanning or feigning a majority. Products are promoted and attitudes engendered by clever niche marketing.

Peter counseled, “Of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage” (2 Pet. 2:19). Brothers and sisters, there are so many personalized prisons!

Scoffers display the shoulder-shrugging attitude foretold by Peter: “Where is the promise of [Christ’s] coming? for … all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (2 Pet. 3:4). Such cynicism mistakes the successive casts on the mortal stage for the absence of a Director or a script.

Like goldfish in a bowl, some are mindless of who changes the water and puts in the pellets (see Jacob 4:13–14), or, like a kindergarten child whose retrieving parent seems a little late, concluding, “Man is alone in the universe.”...

Like Jesus, we can decide, daily or instantly, to give no heed to temptation (see D&C 20:22). We can respond to irritation with a smile instead of scowl, or by giving warm praise instead of icy indifference. By our being understanding instead of abrupt, others, in turn, may decide to hold on a little longer rather than to give way. Love, patience, and meekness can be just as contagious as rudeness and crudeness.

We can also allow for redemptive turbulence, individually and generally (see 2 Ne. 28:19). Hearts set so much upon the things of the world may have to be broken (see D&C 121:35). Preoccupied minds far from Him may be jolted by a “heads up” (see Mosiah 5:13).

Many individuals preoccupied by the cares of the world are not necessarily in transgression. But they certainly are in diversion and thus waste “the days of [their] probation” (2 Ne. 9:27). Yet some proudly live “without God in the world” (Alma 41:11), with gates and doors locked from the inside!

Mark it down, brothers and sisters, people too caught up in themselves will inevitably let other people down!

APRIL 2001 - "Plow in Hope"

We have unprecedented mass entertainment and mass communications, but so many lonely crowds. The togetherness of technology is no substitute for the family.

Much as I lament the resulting and gathering storms, there can be some usefulness in them. Thereby we may become further tamed spiritually, for “except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, … they will not remember him” (Hel. 12:3). The Lord is always quietly refining His faithful people individually anyway, but events will also illuminate God’s higher ways and His kingdom (see D&C 136:31).

Our context is challenging, however. We have many overwhelmed parents, more and more marriages in meltdown, and dysfunctional families. Destructive consequences impact steadily from drugs, violence, and pornography. Truly, “despair cometh … of iniquity” (Moro. 10:22). Since the adversary desireth “that all men might be miserable like unto himself,” his is the plan of misery (2 Ne. 2:27; see also 2 Ne. 2:18).

The valiant among us keep moving forward anyway, because they know the Lord loves them, even when they “do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Ne. 11:17). As you and I observe the valiant cope successfully with severe and relentless trials, we applaud and celebrate their emerging strength and goodness. Yet the rest of us tremble at the tuition required for the shaping of such sterling character, while hoping we would not falter should similar circumstances come to us!

It may be too late to fix some communities, but not to help those individuals and families willing to fix themselves. It is not too late, either, for some to become pioneer disciples in their families and locations, or for individuals to become local peacemakers in a world from which peace has been taken (see D&C 1:35). If still others experience a shortage of exemplars, they can become such....

Several scriptures describe the essence of that glorious and rescuing Atonement, including a breathtaking, autobiographical verse confiding how Jesus “would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink” (D&C 19:18). Since the “infinite atonement” required infinite suffering, the risk of recoil was there! (2 Ne. 9:7; Alma 34:12). All humanity hung on the hinge of Christ’s character! Mercifully, He did not shrink but “finished [His] preparations unto the children of men” (D&C 19:19).

But Christ’s unique submissiveness has always been in place. Indeed, He has “suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning” (3 Ne. 11:11), keenly observing His Father all the while: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise” (John 5:19). This verse carries intimations of grand things—beyond the beyond.

In the agonizing atoning process, Jesus let His will be “swallowed up in the will of the Father” (Mosiah 15:7). As sovereigns, choosing to yield to the Highest Sovereign is our highest act of choice. It is the only surrender which is also a victory! The putting off of the natural man makes possible the putting on of the whole armor of God, which would not fully fit before! (see Eph. 6:11, 13).

OCTOBER 2001 - "The Seventh Commandment: A Shield"

I share the reluctance Jacob expressed when he wrote of the problems of unchastity and infidelity, the breaching of what some number as the seventh commandment. Anxious because his audience had feelings “exceedingly tender and chaste and delicate,” Jacob did not wish to “enlarge the wounds of those who [were] already wounded, instead of consoling and healing their wounds” (Jacob 2:7, 9). Nevertheless, Jacob’s words about the harsh consequences of immorality are diagnostic as well as poetic: “Many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds” (Jacob 2:35). Today we move among so many of the walking wounded, and the casualty list grows.

Hence, reassuring gospel givens could rightly be stressed, such as how individuals who truly repent, though their “sins be as scarlet,” may become “as white as snow” (Isa. 1:18). But the rigors and the rich rewards of repentance are not the purposes of this talk. Nor is giving deserved praise to the many valiant youth and adults who practice chastity and fidelity—even when, for example, only a shrinking minority of American society now believes premarital relations are wrong. Commendations, therefore, to those who have faith unto obedience regarding the commandments, as well as salutations to those who have “faith unto repentance” (Alma 34:15) when commandments are violated.

Clearly, unchastity and infidelity bring serious consequences such as the rippling, even haunting, effects of illegitimacy and fatherlessness, along with disease and the shredding of families. So many marriages hang by a thread or have already snapped. This quiet but deep crisis coexists with vexing international crises in our time, including war. Jesus spoke of latter days when there would be “distress of nations, with perplexity” and how all things would be in commotion (Luke 21:25; see also D&C 88:91; D&C 45:26)...

The adversary has also artificially inflated the concept of privacy, further lubricating the slide away from individual accountability! After all, a few mouse clicks on a computer can take one, privately and quickly, into enemy territory without having to go through passport control, the only remaining restraint then being the checkpoint of dulled conscience.

But God does not have two sets of Ten Commandments, one indoor and another outdoor! Nor are there two approved roads to repentance. True, a weekend of regret may produce some “sorrowing of the damned,” but not the “mighty change” which only godly sorrow produces (Morm. 2:13; Mosiah 5:2; Alma 5:13–14; see also 2 Cor. 7:10).

Yes, we mortals are still free to choose. Yes, a war was even fought in heaven to preserve our moral agency. Yet down here, the great gift of agency is often surrendered without so much as a mild whimper!

There are so many ways to keep the shielding seventh commandment firmly in place. Instructively, for instance, David’s fall, at least in part, was facilitated because he was not where duty lay: “It came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle, … David tarried still at Jerusalem” (2 Sam. 11:1). Then, as you know, came the lustful view from the roof and all the sadness that followed. Implicit, therefore, in the instruction “Stand ye in holy places” is to avoid indulgent tarrying (D&C 87:8; see also Matt. 24:15).

Those who live “after the manner of happiness” (2 Ne. 5:27) also wisely develop protective, spiritual manners. These manners are reflected in their proper dress, language, humor, and music, thereby sending the signal of determined discipleship (see Prov. 23:7).

APRIL 2002 - "Consecrate Thy Performance"

These remarks are addressed to the imperfect but still striving in the household of faith. As always, my immediate audience is myself.

We tend to think of consecration only as yielding up, when divinely directed, our material possessions. But ultimate consecration is the yielding up of oneself to God. Heart, soul, and mind were the encompassing words of Christ in describing the first commandment, which is constantly, not periodically, operative (see Matt. 22:37). If kept, then our performances will, in turn, be fully consecrated for the lasting welfare of our souls (see 2 Ne. 32:9).

Such totality involves the submissive converging of feelings, thoughts, words, and deeds, the very opposite of estrangement: “For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” (Mosiah 5:13).

Many ignore consecration because it seems too abstract or too daunting. The conscientious among us, however, experience divine discontent because of progression mixed with procrastination. Hence, loving counsel is given with the confirmation of this direction, encouragement to continue the journey, and consolation as we experience individually the inherent degrees of difficulty.

Spiritual submissiveness is not accomplished in an instant, but by the incremental improvements and by the successive use of stepping-stones. Stepping-stones are meant to be taken one at a time anyway. Eventually our wills can be “swallowed up in the will of the Father” as we are “willing to submit … even as a child doth submit to his father” (see Mosiah 15:7; Mosiah 3:19). Otherwise, though striving, we will continue to feel the world’s prop wash and be partially diverted...

 inordinate attention, even to good things, can diminish our devotion to God. For instance, one can be too caught up in sports and the forms of body worship we see among us. One can reverence nature and yet neglect nature’s God. One can have an exclusionary regard for good music and similarly with a worthy profession. In such circumstances, the “weightier matters” are often omitted (Matt. 23:23; see also 1 Cor. 2:16). Only the Highest One can fully guide us as to the highest good which you and I can do.

On the two great commandments, Jesus declared emphatically, everything else hangs, not vice versa (see Matt. 22:40). The first commandment is not suspended just because of our vigorous pursuit of a lesser good, for we do not worship a lesser god.

Before enjoying the harvests of righteous efforts, let us therefore first acknowledge God’s hand. Otherwise, the rationalizations appear, and they include, “My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth” (Deut. 8:17). Or, we “vaunt” ourselves, as ancient Israel would have done (except for Gideon’s deliberately small army), by boasting that “mine own hand hath saved me” (Judg. 7:2). Touting our own “hand” makes it doubly hard to confess God’s hand in all things (see Alma 14:11; D&C 59:21)...

Breathtaking submissiveness was achieved by the Savior as He faced the anguish and agonies of the Atonement and “would that [He] might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink” (D&C 19:18). On our small, imperfect scale, we face tests and wish that these would somehow be taken away.

Consider this: What of Jesus’ ministry if He had performed additional miracles but without the transcending miracle of Gethsemane and Calvary? His other miracles brought blessed extensions of life and lessened suffering—for some. But how could these miracles possibly compare with the greatest miracle of the universal Resurrection? (see 1 Cor. 15:22). The multiplying of the loaves and fishes fed a hungry multitude. Even so, recipients were soon hungry again, while those who partake of the Bread of Life will never hunger again (see John 6:51, 58).

In pondering and pursuing consecration, understandably we tremble inwardly at what may be required. Yet the Lord has said consolingly, “My grace is sufficient for you” (D&C 17:8). Do we really believe Him? He has also promised to make weak things strong (see Ether 12:27). Are we really willing to submit to that process? Yet if we desire fulness, we cannot hold back part!

October 2002 - "Encircled in the Arms of His Love"

"True believers” (4 Ne. 1:36) will maintain faith in the latter-day Restoration with its empowering visitations, its prophets and apostles, and its “plain and precious” scriptures (1 Ne. 13:29). The gospel’s first principles surely fit the last days.

Ironically, as the restored Church comes “out of obscurity,” what seem to be stern challenges will actually disclose further the distinctiveness of the Church (D&C 1:30). Nevertheless, matching our behavior more closely with our beliefs will bring relentless reminders about the ongoing duties of discipleship.

The restored gospel is buoyant, wide, and deep—beyond our comprehension. It edifies, whether concerning divine design in the universe or stressing the importance of personal chastity and fidelity. Only meek disciples can safely handle such a bold theology...

Our discipleship need not be dried out by discouragement or the heat of the day, nor should dismaying, societal symptoms “weigh [us] down” (Moro. 9:25), including “in-your-face,” carnal confrontiveness (see Alma 32:38).

We may shrink from some things in the current human scene, but Jesus did not shrink in Gethsemane nor on Calvary. Instead, He “finished [His] preparations unto the children of men” (D&C 19:19).

Regarding trials, including of our faith and patience, there are no exemptions—only variations (see Mosiah 23:21). These calisthenics are designed to increase our capacity for happiness and service. Yet the faithful will not be totally immune from the events on this planet. Thus the courageous attitudes of imperiled Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego are worthy of emulation. They knew that God could rescue them. “But if not,” they vowed, they would still serve God anyway (see Dan. 3:16–18). Similarly, keeping the unfashionable but imperative first and seventh commandments can reflect the courage which three young women displayed anciently; they said no with their lives (see Abr. 1:11).

Therefore, we can be troubled on every side, but nothing can really separate us from the love of Christ (see 2 Cor. 4:8; Rom. 8:35–39); worldly anxieties are not part of being “anxiously engaged” (D&C 58:27). Even so, as Peter urged, we can and should cast our cares upon the Lord, because He surely cares for us! (see 1 Pet. 5:7). Oh, brothers and sisters, the awaiting emancipation of such trusting surrender!

As to remedying our personal mistakes, we face no hindering traffic jams on the road of repentance. It is a toll road, not a freeway, and applying Christ’s Atonement will speed us along...

The “mighty change” required by discipleship may seem roller-coaster like, as soaring revelations bring the gravity of humbling perspective. It was so with Moses, who “fell unto the earth” and exclaimed, “Man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed” (Moses 1:9–10). Then came, however, the divine, reassuring disclosure: “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).

“Mighty” changing, however, is mighty hard work, a labor made more difficult by heeding the unflattering urges of the natural man. Too often our possibilities have been muted by the mundane. We are scarcely ready for the vaulting revelations. Imagine—a spirit portion of each of us is actually eternal and that we were with God in the beginning! (see D&C 93:29, 33).

Of course we cannot fully comprehend all this right now! Of course we cannot know the meaning of all things right now. But we can know, right now, that God knows us and loves us individually.

APRIL 2003 - "Care for the Life of a Soul"

Though ours is a time of conflict, quietly caring for “the life of the soul” is still what matters most. Though events set up the defining moments which can evoke profiles in righteousness, outward commotions cannot excuse any failure of inward resolve, even if some seem to unravel so easily. If hostilities break out here and there, we still need not break our covenants! For example, adultery cannot be rationalized merely because there is a war on and some wives and husbands are separated. There is no footnote to the seventh commandment reading “Thou shalt not commit adultery except in times of war” (see Ex. 20:14).

In another time of war, President David O. McKay counseled members in the military to “keep yourselves morally clean” amid “the beastliness of war” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1969, 153).

Even though nations shall rise against nations, such turbulence does not justify business partners rising against their partners or against their stockholders by stealing or bearing false witness, thereby violating both the eighth and ninth commandments—for which there are no excusing footnotes (see Ex. 20:15–16).

Uncertainty as to world conditions does not justify moral uncertainty, and distracting churn will not cover our sins nor dim God’s all-seeing eye. Furthermore, military victories are no substitute for winning our individual wars for self-control. Nor do the raging human hatreds lessen God’s perfect and redeeming love for all His children. Likewise, the obscuring mists of the moment cannot change the reality that Christ is the Light of the World!

Let us, therefore, be like the young man with Elisha on the mount. At first intimidated by the surrounding enemy chariots, the young man’s eyes were mercifully opened, and he saw “horses and chariots of fire,” verifying “they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kgs. 6:17, 16). Brothers and sisters, the spiritual arithmetic has not changed!

OCTOBER 2003 - "How Choice A Seer"

Ironically, young Joseph Smith went into the grove merely wanting to know which church to join—not seeking to be called as a seer, revelator, translator, and prophet (see D&C 21:1). In the grove and subsequently, there came sunbursts of serendipity! The resulting revelations and translations were not mere speculations, thoughts for the day, or even epigrams, but instead they were divine, declarative disclosures.

The volume of resulting revelations and translations is enormous, underscoring the words “choice seer.” But it isn’t just the sheer volume of what Joseph received which is now being shared with mankind; it is also the existence of “stunners” in the midst of such abundance.

Through multiple revelations and translations, for example, came a description of a universe far, far exceeding the astrophysics of the 1830s, a cosmos containing “worlds without number” and advising us further that the “inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters [of] God” (Moses 1:33; D&C 76:24)...

God has no distracting hobbies off somewhere in the universe. We are at the very center of His concerns and purposes. What a sharp contrast to those who believe that man lives in an “unconscious universe” (Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship,” in Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays [1917], 50), a “universe … without a master” (Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, trans. Justin O’Brien [1955], 123).

Revelations likewise came about our longevity as God’s spirit children, since “man was also in the beginning with God”—a declaration accompanied by even further glimmers about man’s eternal nature (see D&C 93:29). These enunciations with their profound implications are major, challenging, for instance, the teaching that man was created in an instant “out of nothing.”

A further reality of our being with God “in the beginning” means that you have been you for a long time. Hence the Apostle John correctly wrote that “[God] first loved us” (see 1 Jn. 4:19). Likewise, amid the mortal turbulence, we learn who other mortals really are—our spiritual brothers and sisters, not functions, rivals, or enemies. Moreover, we should have a special sanctity and regard for human life....

Alas, in a secular world Jesus is regarded by many, at best, as a distant figure; He is even denigrated. How transcendingly special, therefore, that the revelations of the Restoration confirm this cosmic fact: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

Jesus, who performed the “infinite atonement,” thereby suffered infinitely and is a fully comprehending Savior, having “descended below all things” and “comprehended all things” (2 Ne. 9:7; D&C 88:6). Yes, as in the lyrics of the moving spiritual of yesteryear, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows but Jesus.”...

Brothers and sisters, we dare not hold back the restored gospel’s declaratives! We dare not hold back the reassuring revelations and truth-telling translations about “things as they really are, and … things as they really will be.” These are so needed by those whose weary hands hang down because they suffer from doctrinal anemia, which can best be treated by the red blood cells of the Restoration (see Jacob 4:13). To hold back would be to restrain repentance and to obscure the beckoning spiritual alternative, which will become “fair as the sun, and clear as the moon” (see D&C 105:31).

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