Archive - September, 2009

Interview with David Sitton – Part 2

Dts 10-08.JPGA few weeks I had the privilege of interviewing David Sitton on this blog. Mr. Sitton is the President of To Every Tribe, a ministry which has been planting churches among unreached people groups of Papua New Guinea and Mexico for many years now. Next month they are hosting a conference entitled The Privilege of Suffering: Jesus is Worth It. So that any who are interested may attend, there will be no charge for this conference. However, they ask that folks please register so that they can plan accordingly. To Every Tribe will seek to offset the conference costs through the freewill offerings of those who attend and the generous gifts of supporters.
David was kind enough to answer a few more questions for us. My questions are in bold below.
David – Thanks for your willingness to talk a bit more.
It’s great that so many read our first interview and some cared enough to respond. I’m glad we can do a Part 2.
For an opening statement, I’d like to reply to Justin Long at The Network for Strategic Missions and his observation (as a comment on your blog) that my definitions of unreached and unevangelized, according to many missiologists are inverted. That’s mostly true. However, Donald McGavran, one of the foremost missiologists of the last 100 years, defined unreached much the same way I do. “Socially isolated away from gospel witness” is one way he put it. But the important point is that I suspect most of our differences are largely in the semantics.
I would still argue that the natural progression for the gospel among unreached people groups is this: They are first unreached, meaning, there is no knowledge or access to the gospel within their culture. Then, as they hear the gospel, some are converted, leaders are trained and a small church is established. At this point, I consider them to be reached, meaning, that Christ and the gospel are now known, embraced (church planted) and accessible in their culture.
But there is still a remaining need for evangelization to be completed among them. This is the third phase, which I like to call reaching. This simply means that the needed evangelization is completed through the efforts of their own national believers (church) and with their own local resources.
At this point is when the pioneer church planter should move on to other unreached people groups. So the process is Unreached – Reached – Reaching.
Many missiologists see the process as Unevangelized – Unreached – Christian.
Here’s the reason I especially don’t like that third category (Christian) very much. It has largely lost its meaning for me because too many statisticians include anyone that claims to be Christian into that category. For example, it is often said that Papua New Guinea is 97.28% Christian. That is complete nonsense to anyone that has spent any amount of time in PNG. When the Christian category stretches its arms so wide as to surround and include Catholics, far-fringe syncretistic cargo cults and sometimes even the Mormons, it completely confuses the true situation of the urgent need for mission in the remote and still unreached places.
Romans 15:17-24 has greatly affected the way I think about the remaining task of mission. Paul explains that he is leaving the region from “Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum (modern day Albania)” because his aim is to preach the gospel, not where Christ is already named. Paul justifies his departure by quoting Isaiah 52:15 – so that “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.”
Paul says “there is no more place for me to work in these regions”, and so, he turns his attention to Spain which Paul considered to be an “uttermost” region where Christ was still not known.
How could Paul say there was “no more work for him in these regions?” Certainly there were lost people all over that huge swath of territory that still needed to be evangelized. But for the pioneer church planter, Paul’s
job in the region was finished, and he turned his attention to less reached places.
Paul wasn’t saying by his departure that there was no more need for evangelization. He was saying that this territory was now sufficiently reached so that the remaining work of evangelism could be completed by the local believers in the churches he had established.
This is what I understand from Romans 15:
Unreached Peoples are places where Christ has not been named; where people have never been told of him; where there are those who have never heard of him.
Reached (but not completely evangelized) Peoples are places where Christ is already named; the people have been told of him; they have heard of him; Churches are planted; and the remaining need to evangelize the unsaved, within that now reached region, falls to the local believers.
Reaching Peoples are those that, with their own national manpower and local resources, are completing the job of evangelization and missionary mobilization (and sending) themselves.
And the church planting missionary moves on to other unreached places where Christ is still unknown (unreached) to repeat the process.
I want to say clearly, again, much of the difference, I think, among missiologists comes from our having slightly differing definitions. But we all agree on the distressing spiritual condition of the remaining unreached peoples of the world.
I hope that’s not overly tedious, but I wanted to explain why I have come to use these words and definitions.
I was wondering if we could tackle a couple of exegetical questions. How do you understand Matthew 24:14 (“And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”) in light of the widespread belief in the imminent return of Christ?
I believe the Lord wants every generation of believers to live under the expectation on an imminent return of Christ. Paul himself, I think, was looking for the return of Jesus in his lifetime (I Thess. 4-5) and even encouraged believers to live in a way that would “speed” its coming (2 Peter 3:12).
As for Matthew 24:14, I take it at its literal face value. It means exactly what it says. When every one of the 17,000 ethnicities (people groups) in the world has the gospel established among them, then Christ will return. The Lord will not have an incomplete crop! Heaven will be gloriously populated with the elect from “every nation, tribe and language group” (Rev. 5:9; 7:9).
Do I live in expectancy of an imminent return of Jesus Christ? I do. Jesus is coming soon. And it’s certainly a lot nearer now than when we first believed (Romans 13:11-12). However, humanly speaking, I know there
are thousands of places around the world where the peoples are still desperately unreached and groping around like blind men in the strongholds of hostile spiritual darkness. So from that stand point, I don’t expect Christ to return tonight. But here’s the thing for me; Jesus said three times in Revelation 22 “Surely I am coming soon”; the last prayer of the bible is the church saying in response – “Amen, come Lord Jesus.” So when I pray – “Come, Lord Jesus”, I’m praying that the gospel would speedily go to the ends of the earth; I’m praying for the rapid success of the gospel among unreached peoples; I’m praying for the elect to be quickly drawn in. And when the Lord has gathered in the last portions of his purchased Bride from among the earths peoples, the Lord will split the skies and come for her. And the Lord could make that happen in an instant if he so chooses.
How do you understand Colossians 1:24 (“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church”)? Specifically, how does our suffering relate to the extending of Christ’s kingdom?
I tip my hat to John Piper in helping me understand this one. His message a few years ago entitled “Doing Mission when Dying is Gain” is a must listen.
There are two questions that scream out of the Colossians 1:24 text.
Question 1: What is lacking in Christ’s afflictions?
Answer: Absolutely nothing is lacking in its accomplishment of salvation for his people. Salvation is full and free and completely purchased and secured by Christ through his death and resurrection.
Question 2: If there is nothing lacking in the accomplishment of Christ’s afflictions to acquire salvation for his people, then what is lacking (because the verse clearly says that Paul was filling up the lack)? And how can we provide what is lacking?
Answer: The lack in Christ’s afflictions is not in its accomplishment, but in its, personal, specific application to the nations.
Josef T’son has said – “The nations will be won by his (Christ’s) cross and through our crosses.”
I understand that to mean that it’s the cross of Christ that accomplished salvation – But it’s our cross; that is, it’s our joyful enduring of hardship, suffering and martyrdom (maybe) that proves the truth of the cross to hostile nations.
It’s a difficult dynamic to understand at first. But the Ecuador 5 is a great example of how this works. The cross of Christ was proven to be the power of God for salvation for the Auca tribe. The truth of the gospel was confirmed through 5 human crosses when they were slaughtered by the Auca spears.
When a missionary speaks the gospel in love, then meets violent death in joy for this gospel, a miracle sometimes occurs. The eyes of unbelievers are opened. God enables them to understand the significance of the death of Christ, as demonstrated by the missionaries they just killed – And many of them eventually believe in Christ. This is the consistent testimony from the stoning of Stephen to this present day explosion of gospel advance in the most heavily persecuted areas of the world. Persecution and suffering is not a set-back to mission; it’s an incentive for more aggressive gospel witnessing.
I believe that suffering, hardship, persecution and missionary martyrdom is a divine strategy that God intentionally uses – To advance the fame of his name to all nations. Persecutions always advance the gospel more quickly.
Not to belabor the point, but isn’t it interesting that God has a predetermined number of martyrs (Rev 6:11-14) that he has appointed for the ingathering of his predetermined number of lost sheep (John 6:35-40; 44 and John 10:15)?
We talked about “panta ta ethne” (to all the nations – ethnicities) a bit last time. One of the facts that impressed me when I took the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course was that the last 50 years seem to have brought us much closer to the goal. Can you comment on that?
We are, of course, closer to the goal. But the remaining part of the task is the hardest part. We often say at To Every Tribe that the easy-to-reach places have already been reached. The remaining unreached peoples are (often) geographically remote, culturally and linguistically confusing and oftentimes physically hostile to those carrying the gospel.
When could we finish the task? It could happen quickly if a few thousand martyr missionaries would rise up to go; a few thousand financial martyrs would rise up to sacrificially support them and a few thousand Moravian-like prayer martyrs would rise up to intercede for them. This is the kind of revival I’m praying and believing for. The problem is not essentially a manpower or money shortage. The shortage is in the number of missionaries who are willing to “fall into the earth and die” for the greater harvest (John 12:23-25). A lot of seed needs to be buried in order to reap the remaining crop.
Mark Noll and others have noted that world Christianity has taken on a new shape with large sending bases now in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. What effects might this have on pioneer missions of the sort To Every Tribe does? Are you recruiting at all from outside the USA?
The missionary task is not an American effort; and these days, missionaries from the West are among the least effective in the remaining rough and tough places of the world. Pioneer church planting is grueling work and it will not be accomplished over the long haul by soft, fearful, risk-avoiding missionaries. I praise God that he is raising up fully abandoned, martyr witnesses from 2nd and 3rd world peoples; and we want to work with them.
The effect of this cross-cultural work force will only have a positive effect on To Every Tribe. We want to learn how to maximize multi-cultural church planting teams with our brothers from other countries. We want to be on the aggressive front-line of helping them to organize and mobilize for the nations. In our own Center For Pioneer Church Planting, I see near-future multi-cultural partnerships and church planting teams consisting of American, Canadian, Australian, Mexican and Papua New Guinean believers. Part of our vision is to establish missionary training bases in PNG and Mexico in order to launch these church planting teams in the fastest, most contextually relevant and cost effective ways that we can.
Thanks again for your time and your important work.
Thank you, brother, for your interest in our ministry. I pray God’s best blessings on your family and your good work for the gospel. Let’s reconvene for a third conversation sometime.

2009 West Coast Conference – Session 8 – R.C. Sproul

Dr. Sproul brought the conference to a close with a message entitled He Is Risen! — The Resurrection and Worship.
Sproul read from Exodus 19, the preamble to the giving of the Decalogue. Imagine that you were there: “On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast.” And Moses was told to warn the people, “lest they break through to the Lord to look and many of them perish.”
We already heard from Alistair about the road to Emmaus. And that passage recounts the relationship between resurrection and worship. Jesus’ disciples conversed with the resurrected Christ, not aware of who he was. And then when Jesus disappeared, what did the disciples say? “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32)
The church marked the significance of the resurrection by changing the day of the week that God’s people had worshiped for centuries. The first day of the week was marked “The Lord’s Day” because that was the day that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.
In Exodus 19 we find the announcement that the transcendent God was going to come down to meet them in His immanence. But there were preconditions. The people had to be consecrated so that they were ready when He came down. They needed to do everything in their power to be rid of defilement, to be clean when they come near to me. God didn’t want them coming near the mountain without appropriate regard for the significance of the meeting.
But the message of our day is to be comfortable. So when we come to church as if we were going to the YMCA, we are saying “whatever else happens on Sunday morning, it is not holy ground.”
You may say “clothes do not make the man.” That’s true. And a tuxedo won’t get you into heaven. That’s also true. But we distinguish between various kinds of clothes: formal, informal, sporting, etc. If you went to the White House to have a meal with the President of the United States, you would not wear shorts and flip-flops.
We’ve lost a sense of the solemnity, the reverence, the adoration, of God. After Jesus disappeared, not what the disciples said:: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”
We should not forget the historical context in which the Decalogue was giving. The people had to be consecrated. They were given the Decalogue amidst thunder and lightnings.
Sproul recounts preaching to 50-60 people at a church. He told them that he gets nervous before he speaks, every time. He told them, “Do you know who’s here?” God Himself. In Hebrews 12:22 we read, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering.” We worship God in heaven itself. We get a taste of heaven itself in corporate worship.
The New Jerusalem is in the future. But the author of Hebrews writes that right now we have come to the heavenly Jerusalem:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Heb. 12:22-24).

Not only do we cross from the profane to the holy, from the secular to the sacred, we also join the communion of saints throughout the ages. Yet we attempt to make worship casual. Friends, worship cannot be casual. “For our God is a consuming fire.” Not God was a consuming fire, but God is a consuming fire. We’re to offer to God “acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.” But at many churches there is not much to be reverent about.
But God has not changed one bit. He is still an all-consuming fire. He has given us the unspeakable privilege of entering His presence because He’s given us a Mediator who has paid for all our sins and clothed us in His righteousness.
When you go to church, do you have an acute sense of being in the presence of God? If not, why not?

2009 West Coast Conference – Session 7 – Alistair Begg

Dr. Begg returned to the pulpit to bring a message entitled In the Likeness of His Resurrection — The Bodily Resurrection of the Believer, taking his text from 2 Corinthians 5.
He then read a portion of a message that a pastor might deliver at a funeral. A text that affirms not just the continuity of life, but the resurrection of the physical body. The Christian’s view of death and resurrection ought to be a great apologetic in our day. There is a reason why graveyards used to be near churches. It makes sense. We have the anticipation of a new heavens and a new earth to look forward to.
But in our day not everyone even has a funeral. We have memorials. (We wouldn’t want to think so-and-so died.) It is as if we are afraid of death itself. If a funeral isn’t solemn, what is solemn?
The writer of Ecclesiastes: “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad” (Eccl. 7:2-3).
It was Catholicism that gave us “wakes” and “viewings.” It is Christian to face the full weight of death’s finality (in this world) — to be made to fully grasp the fact that your mother is now 6-feet under in the ground. In another day, the family members would themselves lift the dirt and fill up the grave.
Richard Baxter said it is the pastor’s job to prepare his people for death, and he was right. For Paul, to die was gain because to live was Christ. The former requires the latter.


(a) that our bodies are like tents, and (b) that our earthly bodies will be destroyed, and (c) that when we do, we have a building from God.
We know. Not we feel, but we know. The resurrection of Christ is the pledge of the believer’s resurrection. But, sadly, many churches want to start a service by singing about our feelings, rather than the deep truths of God (which can fuel our praise).
To confirm the reality of Christ in our heart is not the same thing as to confirm the resurrection. The former is an experience that ebbs and flows the latter is a historical reality.
In Ecclesiastes 12, we have an apt description of the demise of a human being at the end of a natural life.
Someone had asked about cremation. Yes, if one is cremated, they can still receive a resurrected body. There are two instances in the Bible describing cremation, but these passages suggest that it was a bad thing. Advocacy of cremation originally came from a few Unitarians. It was an expression of disdain toward God and the resurrection of the dead.
But burial is a picture of being “sown in dishonor, and (someday) to be raised in glory.” It is also a reflection of the biblical imagery of going to sleep.
This is also mentioned in Romans 8. Groaning is a reaching out for what is to come. We groan in frustration with the current limitations and with anticipation of what is to come.
Alas the lack of honest groans in our congregations. A lament allows someone else to open up, cry, groan. There is no dissonance between the knowing and the groaning. No, we know, and so we grown. Paul was looking forward to “putting off the earthly tent.”
There is a guarantee: “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” Cross-reference to Romans 8, “we cry, ‘Abba! Father!'” It is by the Holy Spirit that we are able to say — to cry — “Abba Father.” And sometimes, in our hearts, that is all we can do. (Need to admit that, because some mistakenly reason that because we know we do not groan. The reality is we don’t moan in unbelief but we groan with anticipation.)
We live by faith. Taking God at His word, trusting His promises, heeding His warnings. Faith is like a muscle — you use it, it grows; you don’t, it atrophies. God has given us means of grace. The Scriptures, the sacraments, the benefits and privilege of prayer, we have the fellowship of God’s people, and the experience of trials. Confidence comes by living by faith not by sight. And it is knowledge that builds confidence for living. Paul says that he would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
What will heaven be like? We don’t really know. But everything we know of God gives us confidence that it will be unimaginably wonderful. Look at the beauty of this creation, and note that the new heavens and earth will be even more breathtaking.
There will be a final exam. Everyone will take it. It is a “divine must.” “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10).
And who else will tell people about this? The same principle which seals the doom for the wicked will be used to distribute rewards among the just. We make it our goal to please him.
We were once without God and without hope in the world. But now we have passed from death to life. And this hope does not make us ashamed.

2009 West Coast Conference – Breakout Session – Jason Stellman

The Rev. Jason Stellman is the pastor of Exile Presbyterian Church in the Seattle area. He is the author of a new book entitled Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and the Not Yet, available from Reformation Trust.
In this breakout session, Stellman unpacked a chapter in his book Dual Citizens.
Our desire for eternal life is there in our hearts from the beginning. God has put eternity in our hearts. We are hard-wired for heaven and nothing less will truly satisfy us. This flies in the face of the “Jesus is better than drugs” version of evangelism. Because of why God has made us and what He has made us for, we don’t need to deny that other things in creation can bring true pleasure even now. But something much better awaits. Creation itself is groaning until the sons of God are revealed.
Peter Kreft: “Escapism is an accurate description of other-worldliness if one knows that this other world does not exist. But if the other-world (heaven) does exist, than disbelieving in it is escapism.”
The desire for life beyond the grave — the deep longing — is something we hold in common with the unbeliever. In fact, we know something about them that they might not know as well. The problem with the world isn’t always that the world is evil per se, it is that the world is ultimately unworthy of our affections.
May we love our neighbors and help them to see what they were truly made for.

2009 West Coast Conference – Session 6 – Q&A – Begg, Horton, Sproul

“What do you think of Barth’s view of the resurrection?”
HORTON: Barth was considered a fundamentalist among his contemporaries for believing in the bodily resurrection. Others have been more clear. Many in Germany and in Switzerland at the time denied either the virgin birth or the bodily resurrection or both.

“Do Christ’s death and resurrection accomplish different things? Romans 4 seems to have this sort of language.”

SPROUL: Yes, they are different, but you cannot separate them. Jesus satisfies (for us) the demands of God; He propitiates God’s wrath, making it suitable for God to forgive us. Expiation has to do with God removing our sins from us as far as the east is from the west (like the word “exit”). But the declaration, the vindication, of Christ’s work awaited the resurrection.
God has appointed a day and a Person for a future judgment — the Person is the One he has declared to be the righteous One, having “given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” So you cannot separate the crucifixion of Christ from the resurrection, nor the resurrection from the ascension, nor the ascension from Pentecost, nor Pentecost from the second coming. But each accomplishes something distinct.
“Why does the Bible sometimes use inverse logic? ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’ — but they were clearly looking for someone they thought was dead?”
BEGG: Jesus and the Scriptures are master teachers. These questions lead into explanations.
“Is the anathema against adding revelation refer to the whole Bible or just the book of revelation?”
HORTON: A similar warning was made with regard to the book of the law (“whoever adds to or takes away will receive the plagues”) as what we see in Revelation. I think those apply specifically to the book of revelation but by extension to the whole canon. Because only the King can altar the terms of the canon.
“Are tongues for today, and if so for what purpose?”
BEGG: What happened at Pentecost was unique. My friends who exercise it say it is a prayer language that gives them greater intimacy with God. What gets more interesting is when an interpretation is also provided. In my experience, the interpretation is at best a sentimental truism and at worst something quite bizarre.
SPROUL: Had glossolalia truly been normative in the church after the first century, then we could assess what it is. The problem is that we can’t bridge the gap to the first century.
I think that many people want to overcome the difficulty of unleashing their profound feelings to God in prayer. So they think that if they can bypass the mind, somehow they can find some release of their deep, inexpressible feelings.
BEGG: Let’s suppose that prophetic utterings given via tongues did not add to the canon of Scripture but they did (as some have suggested) add to the canon of living. It is a short step from that to a diminishing of the value of Scripture.
SPROUL: In the 1960s I had about 40 prophecies said over me, and these were specific, verifiable predictions (“on this date, X will happen”). But zero of them came true. So I decided I needed to live by the word of God.
HORTON: The miracle at Pentecost was one of hearing the Word of God in their one language. It wasn’t some individual prayer activity.
“We get a free pass on sin because of Jesus’ death, is that right? Where do works fit in?”
SPROUL: I’m judged by the works of Christ. By grace through faith I pass over from death to life. But the text also says that we’re judged by our works. Not all have the same level of reward in heaven.
“Did Jesus die only for the elect?”
SPROUL: I’d say he only died for believers. The benefits accrue exclusively for believers. But then the question is: Who are these people? Answer: The elect. Those whom the Father gave to the Son, for whom the Spirit would later seal redemption. Was God’s plan/design for the atonement (a) to make salvation possible for everyone or (b) to assure salvation for some?
We believe that God gave a people to Jesus, and executed a purposeful plan to redeem those people for Christ and by Christ.
If not everyone is saved, and God is sovereign, does that mean that God was frustrated by some higher, stronger will? No, of course not.
For Dr. Horton: “Are we Jesus’ hands and feet?”
HORTON: No, the bodily Jesus (who has his own hands and feet) is coming back. The church is His covenantal body. It is a mystical union — affected by the Holy Spirit. We receive our life from Him.
We are active in taking that message (which we passively receive) to the world. We are active in doing good works for the world and our neighbors.
The incarnation is unique. Since I’m a recipient of that, I can show my neighbors who Jesus is.
SPROUL: The “what would Jesus do” question is the wrong one. The real question is “what would Jesus have me do.” Jesus and I don’t have the same office. He is the mediator — I bear witness to the resurrection.
“How do you explain the success of Islam given that its origin is similar to that of Christianity?”
SPROUL: What? Please. Mohammad was neither raised from the dead, nor was he born of a virgin, nor did he live a perfect life.
BEGG: It is Satanic. It arises because of our natural love for a system of works, for legalism, for self-salvation.
HORTON: Judaism is a cult of the Old Testament — it is a break-off from the Old Testament system which pointed to Christ, but Judaism has truncated God’s truth by not accepting the fulfillment of the promises. Islam is a cult of Christianity. It is a parasitic distortion of both Christianity and Judaism.
SPROUL: The Bible says there are many anti-Christs. Mohammad is one of them.
BEGG: This is what surprises me about the present Pope. I don’t understand how the Pope can foster the notion of pluralism. My Jewish friends say Jesus was not the Messiah. I say He was. We can’t both be right. Hindus say God has been incarnated many times. I say it happened once. We can’t both be right. Muslims say it is an unthinkable for a prophet to die on a cross. I say it isn’t. We can’t both be right.
We have been softened theologically for years, and now the chickens are coming home to roost. Young Christians are not prepared to accept the weight of the exclusivity of the truth claims of Christ.
“If God is not the author of confusion, why do Christians have such differences? Why did God make it so confusing?”
HORTON: Differences are not the same as contradictions (or errors). There are four different gospels. They have different ways of defining the kingdom. It is one gospel said through four witnesses. God likes diversity.
We are both finite and fallen. I’m just as fallen and fallible as Muslims and Hindus. Except God has spoken and we’re able to see through a glass, darkly. God has communicated via language. But language is a fragile instrument. Given our fallen and finite state, we may have disagreements.
SPROUL: Every time I read the Bible I subject myself (and my thinking) to the thinking of God. We don’t put the Bible under us. We are often confused because of what we bring to the text, not from what we take from the text. (Again, our fallenness results in disagreements.)
BEGG: Between ourselves and non-Christians, we differ on the central matters concerning faith. But among Christians, we need to realize that (particularly in mainstream fundamentalism) that we’ve made the secondary matters fundamental, and this leads to a loss of the central things.
God allows us to have different views (for example, on baptism) because we are finite. We have something to look forward to in heaven in terms of our a greater understanding and (therefore) like-mindedness at that time. And God is patient with us; He wants us to be patient with each other.
Consider how confused Jesus disciples often were, even with the best Bible teacher (our Lord Himself) proclaiming God’s truths in their midst. Why should it be any different for us?

2009 West Coast Conference – Session 5 – Michael Horton

Michael Horton began his message reading Paul’s Mars Hill sermon from Acts 17. He then cited a recent Newsweek article from Lisa Miller. Ms. Miller opined “we’re all Hindus now” and her reasoning was (in part) that we all believe in the continuity of life (into an afterlife stage where we play on harps in the clouds, and that sort of thing).
When Paul spoke in Thessalonica to a largely Jewish audience, he argued that it was necessary for Christ to be raised from the dead. But he couldn’t go to Athens and argue from Old Testament promises.
Paul was genuinely concerned and sympathetic to these people given that the city was full of idols. Paul had a love not only for Christian gentiles but for those he formerly regarded as dogs (godless pagans). Why didn’t he just get up and read his script, give the proofs, and then shake the dust off of his feet?
Paul couldn’t do that — he was the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul was trained under Gamaliel II, who himself was well educated. He was educated in the Hellenistic tradition, which had a high regard for the Greco-Roman culture.
Sympathy and seriousness — that was Paul’s disposition. And what did that give rise to? “So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.” Paul’s message was focused on the work of Christ. Jesus was the object of his faith.
Jesus is not sold as a product here. Rather, Paul attests to Christ’s work in history.

For the Athenians, the gods (who are material beings) are blissfully uninterested in human circumstances. The Jewish Mishnah says of the Epicureans that they have no sense of the Messianic world to come. The goal was to obtain perfect tranquility for knowledge, friendship, and virtue. When you die, you die. The Epicureans had no sense of any kind of divine judgment; rather, they feared unhappiness. They were not licentious, because they recognized that abundance could lead to poverty. They were interested in the “good life” — finding that golden medium, avoiding pain and unhappiness.
In response to the question “why do bad things happen to good people,” the Epicureans responded, “because the gods don’t care. They’ve already attained that happy eternal existence.”
The Stoics, by contrast, were focused on duty and being detached. If the Epicureans focused on happiness, the Stoics focused on virtue (even virtue above relationships, because the latter created attachments and friendships can fail and disappoint).
So Paul entered this situation. And they recognized that Paul wasn’t offering just some fad. Rather, Paul was bringing something odd and unusual — even by the Epicurean and Stoic standards.
Paul recognized that the gospel had its own PR apparatus. It had its own way of blowing things up and making a lasting impact.
Paul starts out by criticizing their religiosity: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.” This was not a complement. Paul announces that he is going to proclaim the reality of the unknown God.
In Romans 1 Paul explained that everyone is religious. But that religiosity manifests itself in (a) the search for religion, and (b) the distortion of truth and the establishment of idols. So Paul had no desire for an “inter-religious dialogue.”
“This I proclaim to you.” Paul is a herald, an ambassador. He is not there to debate these matters, but to proclaim historical reality. (Religion’s domain, by contrast, lies in the search for happiness.)
The argument:
1. God is the creator of everything. (As opposed to the Epicureans and Stoics who thought that matter was eternal.) Not even the soul was divine — it, too, was created. For them it was “spiritual stuff” and “physical stuff.” For Paul it was “God” and “not God.” God is the creator of everything. He is the Lord of heaven and earth.
2. God is involved in the world. (The Stoics thought God was one with the world — they were pantheists. The Epicureans, by contrast, that the gods were utterly detached from the world and its cares.) In fact, God is both transcendent (free from the world) and immanent (free for the world). Though God doesn’t need us, He showers blessings upon us, giving “to all mankind life and breath and everything.” God cares for everything He has made. See verses 26-28.
The Epicureans might have responded (as many do in our own day), “I cannot believe in a God that is that involved with the world, not given all the junk that actually happens in the world.”
The problem is not a lack of information, says Paul: “Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.” Everyone has a personal relationship with God, the question is what kind of personal relationship. Nobody finds God via general revelation. Rather, people suppress general revelation. So general revelation is sufficient to judge but not to save.
“As even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.'” Hey guys, Paul is saying, even some of your own poets understood this much better than you. We’re God’s offspring — we can’t be part of God (contrary to the Stoics), nor is God utterly disconnected to us (contrary to Epicureans).
The audience was tracking with Paul because he was in the realm of general revelation. But then Paul shifts to special revelation.
We know the law by nature (it is in our hearts). But the gospel is unfamiliar territory — the gospel is good news (datable events) not timeless principles.
1. The gospel declares that God became flesh.
What a shocking concept. They saw physical matter as evil, as a trap, a prison. They were trying to escape their flesh. But Paul was proclaiming the most bloody religious system they’d ever heard of. God spills blood via a brutal execution on a cross (their equivalent of the electric chair). And then the good news is that you get your body back? The resurrection of the body and the life everlasting?
No wonder it was foolishness to the Greeks. Plato’s view of the afterlife has more credence in our day than the Christian one. The resurrection has already happened — just in a spiritual sense.
When my dad was dying I heard the refrain, “The sunset is as glorious as the sunrise.” What an offense. No, death is horrible, a curse. Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus minutes before he raised him from the dead. Christianity takes the horror of death seriously.
2. God is not far away from us. We are far, and God came looking for us.
Some in Paul’s audience might have thought, “Wow, a rabbi dies and rises again. That’s one more cool, weird thing.”
But Paul was arguing that if God came in the form of man, lived, died, and rose again, then this God is Lord of all, and (a) He will judge everyone one day, and (b) God has put up with your ignorance long enough. It is time for everyone to repent and believe in Jesus, because God has raised Him from the dead.
We will all be judged by works that day. But for believers, it will be by Christ’s works. We have already been told (via our justification) that those works are accepted by God. Jesus is not a life coach. He is either a Savior or a dreadful judge.
The gospel is good news. It is not just a great story with historical interest.

John Piper and Doug Wilson Discuss Collision

A 15-minute conversation about the film Collision. Piper asks Wilson perceptive questions (which you can read or listen to at the link above) and there are no “spoilers.” Listen away!

Ligonier West Coast Conference – Session 4 – R.C. Sproul

R.C. Sproul has for many decades proclaimed and defended the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As the founder and president of Ligonier Ministries, his teaching can be heard worldwide on the program Renewing Your Mind, which is available on 230 radio outlets in the United States and in fifty countries worldwide. Dr. Sproul also serves as the senior minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., and he is the author of over sixty books including his most recent publications, The Prince’s Poison Cup, The Truth of the Cross, and Truths We Confess.
Dr. Sproul’s message was entitled Witnesses of the Resurrection — The Apostolic Message. He read I Corinthians 15:12-32.
In 1965 we had our first son (our daughter was three years old). My mother was very happy. She had just received the dress she would be wearing to my ordination ceremony (scheduled to occur 10 days later). We talked that night, and then she went to sleep. That night she died in her sleep. I had spoken to her within 8 hours of the moment that I discovered her dead.
While Alistair was speaking, he said that the resurrection is rationale. It struck me that death is irrational.
Wherever we look at human culture we see this hope for the continuity of life — a hope that refuses to be extinguished from the human heart. But as the Bible says, without Christ we are really without hope.
There were those in the Christian community in Corinth who were saying that there was no such thing as the resurrection. So Paul is responding to them in this letter. Paul was extremely well educated; he had the equivalence of two Ph.D.s by the age of 21. But Paul understood that logic was shared by all humanity. And the human mind was created by God to be rationale, not chaotic.
Sometimes we think that Aristotle invented logic. He didn’t. Aristotle discovered the laws of logic.
And here Paul argues to the Corinthians in an extremely logical manner. The ad hominem abusive fallacy is when you attack the person. But there is a legitimate form of ad hominem argument, and that’s what Paul does here in I Corinthians 15. That is when you step into the shoes of your opportunity and say: “OK, let’s assume what you are saying is true. And let’s take it to the logical conclusion.” In this manner, Paul reduces his opponent’s argument to absurdity.


If we say “all men are mortal.” And “this man is not mortal” — that’s a contradiction. You can’t have a universal negative and a particular affirmative. “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised” (I Cor. 15:13).
And if that’s the case, our preaching is in vain. Every moment that I’ve spent in the pulpit has been a herculean waste of time. And not only has my preaching been in vain, but your faith is in vain. Hear the preacher of Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” The vanity here is futility.
Jean Paul Sartre wrote a book called Nausea. He argued that man is “useless passion.” What a way to describe a human being. We all have passions. A loved one dies; we weep. But Sartre says it is a “useless passion.” There is no way to make any sense of it at all. And our culture has been drowning in this sort of atheistic nihilism for decades.
Jean Paul Sartre, Nietzsche, and Albert Camus — these folks had no time for the silliness of humanism. The humanist wants to exalt the dignity of a grown-up germ who (ultimately) has no meaning (according to the humanist). The humanist thus lives on borrowed capital; he (as Francis Schaeffer said) has “both feet planted firmly in mid air.” Human dignity has no basis in a humanistic worldview, but it has a firm basis in a Christian worldview.


Moreover, we are found to be Jehovah’s false witnesses. Why? Because we’re telling people that God has raised Jesus. But if the dead are not raised, then God has not raised Jesus. For if the dead are not raised, not even Jesus was been raised. And your faith is futile. And you are still in your sins.
That’s not all. Those who have died have perished — fully and finally. Your funeral services are hoaxes. All those you know and love who have died — they are gone. Forever. They have perished. And if in Christ we have hope in this life only then we are of all people the most to be pitied.
Sometimes non-Christians, when we discuss these things and disagree, and they get angry, I tell them: “Don’t get mad. Pity us. We’re of all people the most pitiable.”
Paul goes on to say: “Why in the world am I out here fighting wild beasts at Ephesus? I’m dying daily here. Don’t say you are a Christian and that you disbelieve in the resurrection. I protest.”
But if the only reason for believing in the resurrection was so that we can have something nice to hang on to, then Christianity is a chapter in Alice in Wonderland. Christianity is not a pain killer. If Christ is not raised, I’m going to sleep in tomorrow. I’m not going to spend my life preaching and teaching the things of God.
Paul is saying: “I want you to understand what is at stake here. I want to disavow you of any compromise, like humanism.” In verse 20 Paul says that Christ has in fact been raised from the dead.
Back up to the beginning of the chapter: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
How would your life change if you knew with absolute certainty that Jesus had risen from the dead? What if it came to you from an infallible source? That’s the testimony we have — the word of God. The only infallible rule of faith and practice. No syllogism or formal demonstration could exceed the certitude of the affirmation of the infallible word of God. Remember that Jesus prayed in John 17 that God would sanctify His people in the truth — Your Word, O God, is truth.
I grew up in a liberal church. One minister said the meaning of Easter was to give us courage each day. Another minister said when you’re dead, you’re dead. But in 1957 on the way to a bar a football player told me about Jesus. And he spoke of Jesus as if He was actually alive. And more than anything in the world, I wanted what he had. That night I met the living Christ.
Paul’s conclusion comes at the end of the chapter: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
That Christ has risen from the dead makes all the difference in the world. It means our suffering is not in vain. Our cancer is not in vain. Every tear, every labor, counts forever.

Ligonier West Coast Conference – Session 3 – Q&A Begg & Horton

For Dr. Horton: “You said that we are not an extension of Christ’s kingdom. How does that cohere with our being the body of Christ? Our being the hands and feet of Christ, as it were?”
HORTON: We bear witness to the redemption that Christ has wrought. Yet we are co-workers with Christ, because we are proclaiming him. The difficulty is that sarx and soma are sometimes confused. We are not made one flesh with Christ. We are made one with Christ by the Spirit. He is the first-born from the dead. We have an organic, covenantal relationship, but there is not a fusion between the believer and Christ.

“What is our (the church’s) relationship to Israel?”

HORTON: There is a difference of opinion among Reformed believers about the relationship between the church to ethnic Israel. I myself did a “flip” on Romans 9-11. “Thus all Israel will be saved.” I don’t think we should go back to some sort of rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. I don’t think the largely Gentile church replaces Israel. The grafting in of the Gentiles is the fulfillment of the promises to Israel.
My old view is that there was no future for ethnic Israel; everything was happening now in the church (nothing more than a “remnant” of Israel being saved). But now I am more open to their being a future outpouring of God on the people of ethnic Israel. I was moved toward this view by folks like Ribberbos and Hodge.
BEGG: I agree with much of what Mike just said. And it is not a simple replacement theology.

“How does the Jewish view of substitutionary atonement differ from the Christian understanding?”

BEGG: The Old Testament people were looking forward and we’re looking back.

From Sproul to Horton: Was salvation a different economy back then?

HORTON: Paul contrasts the Mosaic law with the Abrahamic promise. The contrast is between the conditions by which the Israelites could stay in the land (Mosaic law) and how an individual can be saved (Abrahamic promise). Abraham was saved by grace alone through faith alone.
For Begg: You quoted Karl Barth. Was Barth correct when he wrote that Christ was “the elected man” and that all people are “in Christ.”
BEGG: Yes, Christ was the elect man. But not all people are in Christ.
SPROUL: Barth said he wasn’t a universalist, but he was. He said that God’s “yes” extends to everyone; although we can resist it, God will triumph over it.

“Could you please expound on what the federal vision is? It is tearing up my church.”

HORTON: Federal vision is an over-reaching against what is perceived as a baptistic tendency to see the sacraments as merely signs. And the over-reaching ends up viewing baptism as (essentially) regenerative. In contrast, Reformed theology has classically understood there to be a distinction between the covenantal community and those who are indeed regenerate.
So you go to Hebrews 6 and you see language of “tasting, participating.” But “like dry ground drinking in the rain often, it doesn’t bear fruit…..but we are confident of better things with you, brothers, things that accompany salvation.”
Federal Vision folks define justification differently. Classically, Reformed theology believes that saving faith is a resting and receiving. It doesn’t (itself) include obedience.
SPROUL: Though Federal Vision is not monolithic, there is a tendency to overlap the visible church and the invisible church. So you can be in the “invisible church” and then fall out of it.
Federal Vision is often confused with the new perspective on Paul; they are not the same. The PCA studied both of them and came to the conclusion that both of them are outside the historical norm.
“Should we be praying for material needs (our daily bread), or should we not be anxious about such things, and rather pray for spiritual needs?”
BEGG: There is a simplicity to asking God to meet our basic needs. Particularly in what we call the third world. We should not be anxious about our material needs, but rather pray about them (along with spiritual needs) and then thank God as He provides.
“How do we interact at the graveside with the death of a loved one who was not a Christian?”
BEGG: I never want to guild a lily. I don’t want to appear to have a theology for one party and a different theology for another party. My approach is to affirm for the person left behind the availability of and the character of God in relationship to them. As believers, we should enter into the heartache and the loss. Often our deportment at such times will convey more of what is useful in the moment. We may need to wait for much later to say more.
SPROUL: You weep with those who weep. But people in this country believe in justification by death. They don’t believe in hell and they don’t believe in a last judgment. Jesus talked more about hell than heaven. So somehow, even as we weep with those who weep, and while we don’t want to be harsh, we need to get that message out too.
“Should my husband and I leave our church….”
BEGG: Yes. (joking)
SPROUL: If you aren’t in a church that is serious about the gospel and the sacraments and church discipline, you need to be in a church that feeds you the truth of God.
“Why would our current church service be patterned after a covenant renewal ceremony, when that only happened a few times a year in the Old Testament?
SPROUL: It happened more than a few times a year. Joshua 24 is a good example of it. But covenant renewal was also associated with succession — with passing down the baton to the next generation.
I once suggested that the Lord’s supper was both a covenant renewal and a dynastic succession event. Jesus “turned us over” to the Holy Spirit. And Jesus used covenant renewal language when he instituted the new covenant. What do you think of that?
HORTON: Yes. And it is important to establish which covenant is being removed. There are some covenants in this world that are negotiated. But a suzerain didn’t negotiate the terms of the covenant: You obeyed or you were out.
Briefly, there is a similarity between Genesis 15 and the Sinaitic covenant. God says “I will do this…” (promise). And God (rather than Abraham) walked between the body parts (as the weaker king normally would). Then at Sinai, Israel makes a promise, and they (Israel) fail to keep it. And then at the Lord’s supper, Jesus promises to walk through the pieces on their behalf (“my blood, for you.”) Jesus pays for their failure to keep the covenant.
“Is the Mosaic covenant a republication of the Adamic covenant?”
HORTON: We all agree that there is a distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. But is the Mosaic covenant a republication of the covenant of works? Yes, and at a different stage in redemptive history. Adam was in a covenant of works individually. Israel was in a covenant of works as a nation. Israel was called to be a replica of what the kingdom of God would look like. That was why it was important for Israel to obey everything that God specified.

Ligonier West Coast Conference – Session 2 – Michael Horton

Michael Horton is J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, and he co-hosts The White Horse Inn, a nationally syndicated radio talk-show that explores issues revolving around Reformation Theology in American Christianity. Dr. Horton is a minister in the United Reformed Churches of North America and is an accomplished writer whose many books include God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology and Putting Amazing Back Into Grace.
Dr. Horton read from Acts 1 (the sequel to the gospel of Luke), verses 1 through 11. The ascension is actually part of the gospel. It is part and parcel with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The disciples, even after the resurrection, were confused: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” They were basically thinking, “Now that He’s been resurrected, why would he leave?”


Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament shadows and types, such as Moses and David. In I Cor 10:1-6, Paul even likens Christ’s cross with Moses’ Red Sea crossing. But in Jesus we have both Moses (who leads His people through the Red Sea) and Joshua (coming out on the other side to take possession of the promised land).
All of Jesus’ replies from Satan are taken from Moses’ speech in Deuteronomy 6. The goal of the Exodus was not just deliverance from Pharaoh but deliverance unto God. “I am the One who delivered you from Pharaoh….therefore, you shall have no other gods besides Me.”
Eating and drinking in the presence of the Lord is a prominent theme in the historical books and it reappears in the accounts of feasts in Luke’s gospel. Peace and joy and feasting in the presence of God.
Israel was called upon to execute the judgment of God upon the nations–the judgment that was meant to prefigure the last judgment. Yet Israel did a poor job of it. God said of them that they, like Adam, disobeyed. Israel was sent into exile. This is where we find Israel at the time of Christ’s first advent.
The Pharisees were eager to restore obedience to Torah, so that Messiah would come and restore the theocracy.
What we find in Acts 2 is a new exodus. Jesus instituted it Himself. God had attested to this Jesus of Nazareth by raising Him from the dead, vindicating His claims. The signs and wonders pointed to God Himself. When asked how they knew He lived, they never said, “Because he lives within my heart.” No, they knew Jesus lived because the resurrection was historical.
Looking back, recall Jesus’ foretelling that he was going to Jerusalem to be crucified. But Peter and the others thought he was going for an inaugural parade of honor. Remember the mother of the sons of Zebedee asking Jesus (as Palm Sunday was drawing near), “Lord, when you enter your kingdom, can one of my sons be on your right and the other on your left.” Jesus told her she had no idea what she was talking about. That would have meant dying on his left side and right.
Following the new exodus of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have a wilderness period between the resurrection and the ascension. Jesus was immersing, day and night, His apostles in what they needed to know to be His apostles. For 40 days they received intensive instruction about the kingdom. And now the 40 days are ended by Jesus entering the heavenly Canaan (as opposed to the promised land that Joshua entered).
Note that “while eating with them” Jesus revealed the truths of the kingdom to them. One, this was to give testimony to the physicality of the resurrection. (Remember Jesus asking for fish in one of the resurrection accounts?) But there is another reason: It is a renewal of the New Covenant promise that he made with them in the upper room (take, break and eat). Only in this case, Jesus is the meal. Jesus makes Himself the sacrifice and the substance of our salvation.
The “breaking of the bread” becomes central in New Testament worship. They heard Jesus open up the Scripture and their hearts were burning (Luke 24). But they didn’t recognize it was Jesus until he “took, broke, and eat.”
Eating and drinking in the presence of the Lord is an essential part of our participation in the new covenant. Someday it will occur bodily.
Jesus gives a charge to those He led across: To wait in Jerusalem until the promised Spirit (to be sent). Just as Pentecost came 50 days after the Passover, the true Pentecost came 50 days after the true Passover.
But the Ascension was crucial: The disciples/apostles could not enter their earthly conquest until Jesus entered His heavenly kingdom. But the disciples, in asking, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” were still thinking of an Old Testament theocracy. But it wasn’t that bad, since Jesus was talking about the kingdom of God. The disciples were wondering when the resurrection of the just was going to occur, and why Jesus would be leaving.
Jesus answer was a partial yes. Stay in Jerusalem, until you get empowered to be my witnesses. The full consummation of the kingdom would come off in the distance.


Jesus’ ascension opened a fissure in history. The second temple expectations of the Pharisees were not fulfilled. We’re living in that fissure — “these last days of this present regime.”
It is good that Jesus went, and it is good that the Holy Spirit came. Recall that Jesus called “the gospel”, “the kingdom”. But it is not a geopolitical kingdom. It doesn’t grow by political coercion or by ballots, but by God’s spirit. As prophet, Jesus reveals the Father’s Word. As priest, He intercedes for us. As King, he is looting Satan’s possessions during these last days (having previously bound the strong man).
The cloud which guided Israel in the wilderness, which filled the tabernacle…..the cloud now takes Jesus into heaven at His Ascension. That cloud will come again to empower the disciples.
In Luke 24, we have two witnesses to the resurrection (“why are you looking for the living among the dead?”). Here at the Ascension, we have two witnesses (“why do you stand looking into heaven?”). The witnesses were telling the disciples to keep their eye on the ball, the next new thing was about to happen.
Luke 24 tells us similarly that “While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.” Soon they will be thrown out of the temple — but only the earthly temple. Jesus was in heaven building the true temple.
Why the delay in His coming? Peter tells us that it is because of God’s mercy, as living stones are being added to the new, the true, temple.
The conquest of Christ in this world is greater than any conquest in the Old Testament. What fills this gap? Nothing, Jesus absolutely must come back. But in the meantime, we enjoy a real union with Jesus Christ. And on the basis of that union, we are sent out. Sent out by the missionary God.
The logistical detail of replacing Judas with Messiah — what’s it doing here in the early part of Acts? They are there because the Kingdom is not entirely invisible. It is a visible, even now. The kingdom is visible in the preaching of the gospel, the sacraments, and church discipline.
Church growth in the book of Acts is described by the phrase “and the word of God grew.” We have two Advocates, in fact: One in heaven and another on earth. And we need both. The powers of the age to come has broken in. The everlasting feast has already begun.
All the outer courts of the temple have been broken down. We have immediate access to God. We are living stones in Him. No longer insiders or outsiders (as Jews and Gentiles were); no, we are one people — He has broken down the wall.
That which is unclean can (in Christ) become clean. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (I Peter 2:9-10).

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