Responding to God in Worship
Tim Temple


We have spent the last several weeks talking about responding to God and becoming people who know their God. We talked about all of the various attributes of God and the things that He reveals to us about Himself in the Scripture. For the last month we have been talking about responding to God—the various ways that the Scripture tells us to respond to Him.

Let me ask you a question. It is one that you may not have even stopped to think about yet, but I want you to think seriously about this. Why did you come to church today? If you think about that for a moment, I am sure your response would be, “I am here to worship God.” But really, whether we say so or not, most of us come to church for a lot of different reasons. Probably the most general reason that we come to church is that we would say that we get a lot out of it. We enjoy the music or the fellowship. Some of you even enjoy the preaching. We come to church for those various reasons—maybe all of those reasons or maybe only one or two of them.

There are a lot of different reasons we come to church, and all of those things are a legitimate part of the worship service but in and of themselves do not constitute worship. All of those things are merely stimuli to help us in worshiping God. One of the ways that we respond to God as He has revealed Himself to us is to worship Him.

As we think about some of the things that God has revealed in His Word about worship, we are going to see that worship is much more than just coming to a worship service. It is much more than just singing these beautiful hymns and choruses. It is more than observing the Lord's Supper. It is something that constitutes all of those things and even more.

Today we want to think about the matter of worship, and as we do that, the first thing that we need to get clear in our minds is what worship is. What do we mean by that term, and what does the Bible say about it?”

Jesus Speaks of Worship

Jesus spoke very clearly about the subject of worship in John, chapter 4. In this one brief passage, verses, 14-24, He uses the term worship no less than eight times, and He discusses it very thoroughly in this one brief passage. The background of this passage that we are going to look at today finds Jesus passing through the area of Samaria. Most of the Jews would never go through Samaria, although it was the province just north of Judea where Jesus was ministering at that time.

The Samaritans were considered half-breeds by the Jews. They were discriminated against; they were looked down on like some minorities in our nation are. It has been true throughout history. We all, in our sinful nature, tend to look down on people who we think are less than we are. The area of Samaria was the area, during the Babylonian captivity before Jesus' time and during Daniel's day, where the Israelites were taken into captivity in Babylon because of their years and years and years of rebellion against God, their refusal to walk with Him.

During those years when Israel was in captivity in Babylon, some Babylonians were moved in by their government into that area that the Jews used to inhabit. Over the generations some of the Jews had come back and intermarried with those Babylonians, and there developed in this area that group of half-breeds. The Jews hated the Samaritans so much that if they had to go anywhere north of Samaria from their area in the south, they went completely around Samaria.

It is very interesting to notice in John, chapter 4, that we are told that Jesus needed to go through Samaria. We are not told why He needed to go through Samaria, but it was very unusual for this Jewish man, Jesus of Nazareth or any Jewish man, to go through Samaria. As you read through the chapter, you see that the incident that we are going to focus on here in chapter 4, is probably the reason that He needed to go through Samaria. Here is one of the most famous passages in all the Word of God about forgiveness and about the worship of God. This is the passage where Jesus met the infamous liberated woman at the well, and He had a conversation with her.

In the first part of the passage, which we are skipping over, Jesus told her all things that she ever did. Verse 19 is something of an understatement when it says, “She perceived that He was a Prophet.” I guess that she did! He knew all about her, and He had never met her before. In verse 20, she responds like she thought you needed to respond to a Prophet. She starts talking about worship. In verse 19, she says, “I perceive that you are a prophet.” Then in verse 20, she launches into this conversation about worship:

John 4

20Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.
21Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.
22Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.
23But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.
24God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

We will stop our reading there for a moment. You can see that Jesus went along with this woman in this little conversation about spiritual things. He said a number of things about worship that we will come back to in the course of our study.

One of the most fascinating things is in verse 23. He says:

John 4

23…for the Father seeketh such to worship him.

Did you know that God actually seeks our worship? God is looking for people who want to worship Him. He is anxious to see us come into His house on Sunday to worship Him. He is also anxious for us to seek Him and worship Him in our day-to-day lives and activities. Worship is the natural, relevant, pertinent response that God has revealed that He wants. As He has revealed Himself to us in the Scripture, the response that He wants us to have to that is worship of Him.

The Definition of Worship

The first thing that I want us to think about today is the definition of worship. What is worship? What do we mean by that term? The word translated “worship” all through this passage—really throughout the New Testament—is the Greek word proskuneo , which means literally “to bow down,” or “to prostrate oneself.” The word worship means “to bow down” or, more literally, “to humble oneself” or “to give honor to another person.” Interestingly enough, that Greek word was not really a holy word as such; it was used in paying secular homage to a human king. It was used to describe worshiping idols even. It was used to describe the honor with which a person would treat a superior officer or employer or teacher, or whatever your situation might be. It just simply means “to give honor and to give respect, to give deference to a person you consider to be higher in rank than you are.”

Giving Honor to God

In a way, it is good that God chose that particular word to use in describing worshiping Him, because it more clearly demonstrates that worship at its highest is giving honor to whoever is being worshiped. Worship is not just coming to church. Worship is not just singing a hymn or observing the Lord's Supper or hearing a sermon. Worship is all the things that are involved in giving honor to another person. That is what is at the heart of worship. When we talk about worshiping God, we talk about giving honor to God. When we worship God, whether privately or publicly, we don't do it to get something out of it; we do it, rather, to give something to God—to give honor, respect, love, and homage to God.

In a worship service, the sermon, the music, and whatever is done, is just a means of giving that honor to God. It is always true of God's grace that when we worship Him in any of those ways, we receive strength and instruction from our worship, but the primary purpose of our worship is to give honor and praise to Him. The reason that we are gathered here this morning is not what we can get out of it. The reason that we are gathered here should be to give something to God, to give Him our worship, to give Him our adoration, to give Him our praise, to give Him our money, to in various ways demonstrate to Him that we honor Him. If you are here today for what you can get out of the service, you are here for the wrong reason, even though I do hope that you get something out of it; and by God's grace, He always gives to us when we give to Him, but our purpose is to worship Him—to give to Him.

Jesus' Description of Worship

Now that we have a definition of worship in mind, we need to think very carefully about a description of worship that Jesus gives in verses 21-23 of John, chapter 4. Up to this point in their discussion, the woman has been talking to Jesus about which church is the right one to go to. She was using the terminology of which mountain to worship on because the Samaritans, of course, moving into that area that the Jews had formerly inhabited, didn't want to go down to Jerusalem and worship there. The Samaritans set up their own mountain on which to have their worship. It was a different kind of worship than the Jews had. Through the years, as the Jews came back into Israel and the Samaritans were still there and there was all of this animosity between them, one of the things that divided them was their worship.

This woman had said, as we read a moment ago, “Your people say that you should worship in Jerusalem; my people say that we should worship on this mountain here. Which is the best mountain to worship on?” To put it in to today's terms, we would say, “Which church is the right one to go to?”

That is a relevant subject, isn't it? It is one that we have been involved in before. In verses 21-24, Jesus says something that is truly revolutionary to most people's thinking. Look at those verses again:

John 4

21Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.
22Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.
23But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.
24God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

Let's think about these verses. In verse 21, Jesus says, “The day is coming when it won't matter which mountain you worship on. The day is coming when it won't matter which church you worship in. That will be something of personal choice. It will not be something that is dogmatic.” In fact, He goes on in verse 23 to say that with His presence, that day had already come. Jesus ushered in that day that He was talking about. He spoke of it as future tense, because He hadn't yet died on the Cross, but He was there to usher in that day. He was referring to what the theologians refer to as the Old Covenant . He was saying, “This Old Covenant, the way people approach God in the Old Testament, is about to come to an end.” In fact, He said, “It is at an end, with My presence.”

Worship Unrelated to a Specific Place

In the Old Testament, if you wanted to worship, you had to go to the tabernacle, and later to the temple, and you had to go through an elaborate system of priests and sacrifices. Worship in the Old Testament was directly related to the place and the very thing that the woman at the well was discussing with Jesus. However, Jesus was telling this woman, “That system is canceled. From now on, worship will be related not to where you are, but who you are.” Notice how He states it in verse 24:

John 4

24God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

You see, He doesn't say, “God is Spirit, and those that worship Him must do so at Abilene Bible Church.” That is not what He said, and He didn't say any other church. The focus now is not on a place, but it is on a relationship with Jesus Christ. “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”

Jesus was teaching what Paul was later going to elaborate on in I Corinthians, chapter 6, verse 19:

I Corinthians 6

19What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

God lives within us. The Scripture tells us in various places that when we accept Jesus Christ as Savior, God the Holy Spirit comes to live within us. Jesus promised that to His disciples, and on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came and indwelt all those who had trusted Christ up to that point. From that time on, every person who accepts Jesus Christ as Savior, receives the Holy Spirit—God living in us.

This has some very important implications for us. First, it means that you don't have to go to church to worship. I hate to tell you that, but before you get too excited about making plans for how you are going to use your Sundays from now on, it also means, secondly, that we live in God's presence everywhere we go. In other words, we don't have to go to church on Sunday to worship, because we can worship anywhere and anytime that we choose to do that, and we should do that on a regular basis.

Many people are very careful what they do and say inside the church building, but if you carry that through to its logical conclusion, we should be just as careful in everything we do and everywhere we go, because now our body is the Church. Our body is the temple. Our body is the place where God dwells. You see, the emphasis is no longer on where you worship, but really on when you worship, because now we are in the presence of God, and any time we stop what we are doing and focus our attention and our thoughts upon God, we have a time of worship right where we are.

The reason that is so important, and the reason that I am spending so much time on this particular segment of this passage, is that it has to do with the compartmentalization with which so many Christians live, God in one compartment—and with many Christians that is the Sunday morning compartment; that is where God is. On Sunday morning, we pay attention to God and we worship Him, and in many cases sincerely, truthfully worship God. But beginning with noon or whenever the service is over on Sunday morning, from then on until the next Sunday morning, the rest of it is “my life, my will, and my priorities.” There are many born-again, Bible-believing, sincere Christians who live that way—in a compartmentalized life.

That is a very serious thing, because since God is always with us, we should never have that kind of compartmentalization. We can and we should live lives of worship, practicing the presence of Christ. Listen, if you limit worship to a place, the minute you leave that place, you will also leave your attitude of worship as well. Even though that may sound like a very simple statement, it is a very important statement to make, because of its relationship to that compartmentalization that I have been talking about.

New Covenant Worship

Turn with me to Hebrews, chapter 10. This chapter has some very important things to say about this New Covenant of worship. The Old Covenant, going to a place to worship God, has now been set aside. It has been canceled with the death of Christ. The book of Hebrews was written originally to believers who had trusted Christ out of a Jewish background. There are things in the book of Hebrews that are hard for us who have not come to Christ out of that background to understand. There are some important things that all of us need to know that have to do with this New Covenant way of living.

First, in Hebrews, chapter 10, verses 19-20, tell us that we can come directly into the presence of God without a priest or any other kind of mediator. In the Old Testament you couldn't do that, and those people had to go to the tabernacle or the temple and go through a priest to make a sacrifice, but look, beginning with verse 19:

Hebrews 10

19Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
20By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
21And having an high priest over the house of God;
22Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.

One of many amazing things that happened at the time of the death of Christ was that the veil that separated the holy place from the holy of holies was split in two. In the Old Testament only Jews could come into the temple, and even then, the Jews could only go into the holy place, and there they made their sacrifices. But once a year there was a day of atonement, and on that one day of the year, the high priest only was allowed to go into the holy of holies, the innermost room in the temple and the place where the very presence of God dwelt. The Ark of the Covenant and the Shekinah glory of God, the presence of God, dwelt in the holy of holies, and no one could go past that veil except on a very special day by a very special person. That was the most important day of the year for devout Jews. Suddenly, when Christ died, that veil was split into two from the top to the bottom, obviously a miraculous thing. That veil was several inches thick, and supernaturally it was split in two.

The Indwelling Presence of God

The writer of Hebrews has that in mind when he says in verse 20: “We have a new and living way into His presence. He consecrated that for us through the veil that is His flesh.” That veil has been torn apart by the death of the living Lord Jesus Christ, and now we can come directly into His presence.

Do you realize who you are? God is saying here that just as in the Old Testament the temple was the place of His presence, in the New Testament, you are the place of the presence of God. You and I are the place that God has chosen to dwell in this age in which we live.

Verses 11 and 12 of this same passage say that Christ is at the right hand of the Father, representing you and me, ready to bring us before God at any time. What that means is that worship can and should be a way of life, not just a once a week experience. We can worship Him anytime in any place.

This matter of time is something that varies from one person to the next. God doesn't hold you accountable for time that you do not have. Obviously there are things that we have to do. God has made each of us stewards of everything that He has given us: our money, our talents, our abilities, our education, our background, all of those things that God has put into the mix of our lives. He says that we are stewards of those things. We are to manage those resources for His honor and glory, and one of those resources is time.

God expects us to use our time to earn a living, to take care of our families, to train our children, and to relax. All of these things are proper uses of our time. However, one of the important things that we should do with our time when we have the time is to find time to worship God besides that worship that we do here on Sunday. God doesn't hold you responsible for time that you do not have, but I wonder how carefully we manage time that we could be spending in His presence in worship.

Since we don't have to go anywhere to do that, since we don't have to wait for a certain day to do that, there should be some time in every week that we can get alone with God and just in whatever way God leads us to do, pour out our hearts to Him in worship. For some that may mean that you have time to do a detailed Bible study and have a long time of prayer, maybe even sing some hymns and choruses to yourself.

Your circumstances are different from mine, and everybody's circumstances are different from each other, but some of you have time to have a full blown worship service every day. Others of you, perhaps, just have a little bit of time. You may only have time to read a brief passage of Scripture, say a brief prayer. I am not trying to dictate how that worship ought to take place. You are in the presence of God. He lives within you, and you can do that worship in whatever way you feel led to do it. But listen, a part of every day of all of our lives ought to be spent in the wonderful privilege of worshiping God right where we are. In fact, our lifestyle should be a lifestyle that involves worship of God and honoring Him in all that we do; but I believe there should also be that specific time during each day when we come before the Lord and prostrate ourselves before Him, mentally if not physically, and honor Him and worship Him.

The Importance of Assembly

Some people might respond to that information by saying, “That means I don't need to come to church anymore. If I can worship the Lord anywhere I am, and if I can do that every day, then why do I even need to come to church?” Is that what the passage is saying? It is interesting to notice this very same passage which makes such an issue of our being the dwelling place of God also tells us down in verses 24 and 25, that it is important for us to come together. Notice these verses:

Hebrews 10

24And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
25Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

It is certainly true that we can worship God on Sunday morning just as well at the lake or maybe even on the golf course or in bed. We can do those things. We can worship God on Sunday as easily at home as coming to church. Even having said that, the writer of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says that we should encourage each other to love and good works and not forsake the assembling of ourselves together.

They had the same problem back in those days as they have now. There were people even back in that first century who didn't come to church as often as they should.

The Depiction of Worship

We have talked about the definition of worship, and we have talked about the description of worship, but there is a third aspect of worship to think about. It is the depiction of worship that God gives in various places in the Bible. Turn back to Exodus, chapter 30. In the Old Testament, the way God feels about our worship is depicted in the fragrance of a sweet perfume that they were to place on the altar. Notice Exodus, chapter 30, verse 34:

Exodus 30

34And the LORD said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight:
35And thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy:
36And thou shalt beat some of it very small, and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with thee: it shall be unto you most holy.
37And as for the perfume which thou shalt make, ye shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: it shall be unto thee holy for the LORD.
38Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people.

This is an interesting little passage that many people don't even know is in the Bible. Maybe this is why men and women like to wear perfume or cologne. It is something that is even pleasing to God.

This is the section of the book of Exodus in which God is giving detailed instructions about the way that they were to worship. As a visable and smellable demonstration of their giving to God, the Israelites were to include in the things they gave to God in their sacrifices, this perfume that He gives the ingredients of here.

Notice in verses 37 and 38, it was not to be used for anything else. They were not to market this in department stores as something people could wear. This was perfume that was dedicated entirely to God. God was interested in this smell, and it was a picture of the fact that as the Israelites came to worship God, and as we come to worship God, it rises up before Him just like a sweet-smelling perfume would rise out of that fire that they placed it in.

A Submissive Attitude In Worship

I think that this demonstrates that proper worship of God is a unique, holy, submissive attitude that arises out of our hearts to the nostrils of God. This has a lot to say about how we act when we do come to church, or how we act in our own private times of worship, particularly as we come to church, perhaps even more about how some people think in church.

You know, sometimes people come to church and they spend that time thinking about what they are going to do that afternoon or that next week. They get things straightened out in their minds about this or that. Sometimes they think about who is there, what they are wearing, if they notice me—all kinds of things can go through our minds. Yet our worship is so important to God that in the Old Testament He even gave a recipe for a perfume that would smell good to Him. That was a depiction of what worship ought to be to God.

Let me ask you something. How good do you think your attitude in church smells to God? I have no way of knowing what you have been thinking about, but I am old enough to know that some of you haven't been sitting here listening to every word that I have to say. Some of you have let your minds wander and think about a lot of things. Nobody seems to be acting up physically, but sometimes particularly children don't act right in church, and the parents don't do anything about it. You see, even these kinds of things that would seem to be very minor are important to God because they are all a part of that mix that comes up before His nostrils. He is even interested in the way we think and the things that we think about. Ingredients in our worship are important to Him.

Worship is so important in God's sight that He gives another depiction of it in the New Testament. Let's go back to John, chapter 12. In this portion, probably coming out of this Old Testament practice, there is a picture of the fragrance of the anointment of Christ. This is the story of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with some perfume. Notice, beginning in verse 1:

John 12

1Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead.
2There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.
3Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.

Mary worshiped Jesus Christ by physically anointing His feet with this very expensive perfume. This time the offering of perfume was made to God in His human form, the Lord Jesus Christ.

This story speaks for itself. Bible scholars have put two and two together from this and that in the New Testament and figured out that this perfume was probably worth a month's wages for the average working person in that day. Mary poured this bottle of expensive perfume and used it to wash the feet of Jesus. An odd use for expensive perfume, wouldn't you think?

In the next verses, Judas objected to this, and he said, “Look, this bottle of perfume could have been sold and the money could have been given to the poor.” John goes on to add the fact that what Judas really had in mind was that it could have been given to Judas, because Judas was the treasurer, and he regularly took the money for himself. It shows what a hypocrite Judas was.

Notice what Jesus said in verse 8 when Judas made that suggestion:

John 12

8For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.

My goodness! What a politically incorrect thing to say. “The poor you have always with you.” You mean that the poor are just commonplace and we shouldn't think about the poor? What Jesus says here does not mean that we shouldn't pay any attention to those in need. In fact, other Scriptures tell us that we have a responsibility to take care of those who are legitimately in need. What Jesus was saying was that worshiping God is more important, when you have the opportunity, because you always have opportunity to help the poor. You can help the poor anytime you want to, but you can't always have the opportunity to worship God.

Choosing the Presence of Jesus

Luke, chapter 10, shows that Mary and her sister Martha were very different from each other. Martha was always serving and bustling around, seeing that things were right, but Mary chose to sit and listen to Jesus. When Martha started chewing the Lord out about that in Luke, chapter 10—a very amusing chapter to me—Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are busy and troubled about many things, but Mary has chosen that better part.” His point was the same as in John, chapter 12. There is always time to prepare the meal. There is always time to do the house cleaning. There is always time to do those things that we have to do, but we don't always have those opportunities, particularly in that day, to be in the presence of Jesus.

You know, we Christians today are mostly Marthas. Most of us are so busy. Our lives revolve around so many things. When Jesus said, “Martha, you are busy and troubled about many things,” He used the word peri , which is translated “about.” It means “in the perimeter.” “Your life is surrounded by all of these things.” Doesn't that sound familiar? We have so many things that our kids are involved in and that our spouses are involved in and that our businesses are involved in and our hobbies. We are busy and troubled about many things, just like Martha.

Jesus went on to tell Martha, “There is one thing that is really necessary, and that is to sit in the presence of Jesus whenever you have the opportunity.”

I am sure I am speaking to some people who are saying, “You know, I don't have time to take time out everyday to worship the Lord.” Jesus said, “Yes, you do. Those things that are taking up your time will be there later in the day. They will be there tomorrow. They are always there. The poor are always with you.” But the one thing that is needful, so many times we crowd out of our lives, and that one thing is to sit and give homage to Jesus Christ.

Distinction Between Worship and Ministry

In addition to the description of worship and the depiction of it, perhaps it would be helpful to think about the distinction between worship and ministry. What we have been seeing is that worship is that which goes up to the Father. Ministry is what comes down from the Father to us and out from us to other people. Both of those things are important. It is important for us to allow God to minister to us and to use the spiritual gifts that He has given to us to reach out to other people. That is a part of it too. Both of those things are legitimate parts of God's plan for believers, but there must be a balance.

Too many of us are busy, not only with all of those secular, mundane things of life, but it is possible for even a Christian to get so busy serving the Lord that he doesn't have time for worship. Martha was doing a good thing. She was preparing a meal for Jesus. She was taking care of Jesus. She was serving Jesus, but Jesus said, “Martha, there needs to even be time to stop serving Me and spend time worshiping Me.”

I feel sure, knowing this church family as I do, that I speak to some of you who need a word of admonition in that regard. Some of you, not all of you, but some of you, perhaps are spending so much time in serving the Lord that you haven't taken time to just sit in His presence and adore Him. That is an easy thing to allow to happen in our lives, but Jesus said to this woman taking care of Him, “You need to sit at My feet. That is the better thing.” Not that we should stop serving the Lord, but that we take time in the midst of our serving Him to just simply worship Him; give homage to Him.

Stop and think about this. Do you ever really worship God? Do you ever in your heart attitude, or perhaps physically, prostrate yourself before Him and say, “How great Thou art,” and meditate on those things? How long has it been since you have done that? Do you spend any time in the worship service pouring out your heart before Him? The best time to do that, and the time designed to do that in our service, is the Lord's Table. Do you really take that time to prostrate yourself before the Lord, or are you busy even at that time, thinking about what you are going to do later or who is here and who is not here or who is serving the Lord's Supper today?


It is easy to let those kinds of things come into our hearts even in a worship service. Sometimes we don't take the time for the worship that we are here to do. How much pleasure do you think God gets from your attitude in a worship service and from your attitude as you live your life in His presence? Does it come up before Him as a sweet-smelling perfume?

One of the major responses to God is worship, and that worship is not limited to a couple of hours on Sunday morning. It is an important part of our worship, but our life should be a life of worship and response to God.

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