Teach Children the Bible Is Not About Them

When I go into churches and speak to children I ask them two questions:

First, How many people here sometimes think you have to be good for God to love you? They tentatively raise their hands. I raise my hand along with them.

And second, How many people here sometimes think that if you aren’t good, God will stop loving you? They look around and again raise their hands.

These are children in Sunday schools who know the Bible stories and probably all the right answers, and yet they have somehow missed the most important thing of all.

They have missed what the Bible is all about.

They are children like I once was.

As a child, even though I was a Christian, I grew up thinking the Bible was filled with rules you had to keep (or God wouldn’t love you) and with heroes setting examples you had to follow (or God wouldn’t love you).

I tried to be good. I really did. I was quite good at being good. But however hard I tried, I couldn’t keep the rules all the times so I knew God must not be pleased with me.

And I certainly couldn’t ever be as brave as Daniel. I remember being tormented by that Sunday school chorus “Dare to Be a Daniel” because, hard as I tried to imagine myself daring to be a Daniel, being thrown to lions and not minding . . . who was I kidding? I knew I’d be terrified out of my skull.

How could God ever love me?

I was sure he couldn’t because I wasn’t doing it right.

Breaking Spells

One Sunday, not long ago, I was reading the story of “Daniel and the Scary Sleepover” from The Jesus Storybook Bible to some 6-year-olds during a Sunday school lesson. One little girl in particular was sitting so close to me she was almost in my lap. Her face was bright and eager as she listened to the story, utterly captivated. She could hardly keep on the ground and kept kneeling up to get closer to the story.

At the end of the story there were no other teachers around, and I panicked and went into automatic pilot and heard myself—to my horror—asking, “And so what can we learn from Daniel about how God wants us to live?”

And as I said those words it was as if I had literally laid a huge load on that little girl. Like I broke some spell. She crumpled right in front of me, physically slumping and bowing her head. I will never forget it.

It is a picture of what happens to a child when we turn a story into a moral lesson.

When we drill a Bible story down into a moral lesson, we make it all about us. But the Bible isn’t mainly about us, and what we are supposed to be doing—it’s about God, and what he has done!

When we tie up the story in a nice neat little package, and answer all the questions, we leave no room for mystery. Or discovery. We leave no room for the child. No room for God.

And that’s why I wrote The Jesus Storybook Bible. So children could know what I didn’t:

That the Bible isn’t mainly about me, and what I should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.

That the Bible is most of all a story—the story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.

That—in spite of everything, no matter what, whatever it cost him—God won’t ever stop loving his children . . . with a wonderful, Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.

That the Bible, in short, is a Story—not a Rule Book—and there is only one Hero in the Story.

I wrote The Jesus Storybook Bible so children could meet the Hero in its pages. And become part of His Magnificent Story.

Because rules don’t change you.

But a Story—God’s Story—can.


Editors’ Note: The new Jesus Storybook Bible Curriculum by Sally Lloyd-Jones and Sam Shammas contains 44 lessons revealing how Jesus is the center of each Bible story and how every story whispers his name. It includes activities, notes for teachers based on material from Timothy Keller, memory verses, handouts for children, a hardcover copy of The Jesus Storybook Bible, and three audio CDs containing David Suchet’s reading.

  • Brad

    The Bible itself frequently uses Biblical characters as moral examples. In fact even Jesus Himself is used in Scripture as a moral example!

    I wish we in Reformed circles would have a little balance and stop beating up on the “dare to be a Daniel” idea. That is a legitimate application of the story. Can’t we just say that isn’t the only (or even primary) meaning of the story? Balance, can’t we have balance?

  • mel

    I don’t want balance. I want Jesus.

    • J.Kru

      Great! And so if you love Jesus, you should do what he c_ _ _ a _ d _

  • Susan

    Brad, moral examples are fine, morality isn’t the problem – a heart issue is. The enemy would be laughing and very pleased if we were all very moral people – as long as our eyes are not on Jesus, but instead fixed on ourselves and our morality.

    Many world religions have morals that are almost on a par with Christianity, but any kind of moral living that is not springing forth from Christ within is dead. My brother who is not a Christian could follow Jesus’s example, and even if he did it perfectly it would be of no value to him.

    The application for Daniel’s story is more trust and reliance in a loving God – faith in Him, Jesus is the hero of the story, not how brave or daring Daniel was.

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  • Stephanie

    I absolutely love the Jesus storybook Bible. I read it to my 5 month old almost daily and I know that even though he doesn’t understand it yet I pray that someday he will understand it’s message… that Jesus is the hero of the Bible and that God will never ever stop loving us. What an amazing story it is! I’m also incredibly thankful that the Jesus Storybook Bible has been translated into Japanese (I serve with an organization that plants churches in Japan) as it is easy to understand and can be a great introduction to the Bible for kids or adults. Thank you!

    • Tim

      Stephanie, we have been reading the Jesus storybook Bible with our three children for years and our copy shows the mileage too! I was grateful to see the Japanese version a couple of years ago at a conference and wonder if there are plans to see it printed in additional languages? We’re living and working in Bangkok with a church planting organization as well and I’ll often try to translate on the fly with Thai friends that join us for meals. I know there must be great challenges to seeing translations become a reality but I would love to see it happen.

  • Robert Barnes

    Sorry Brad, balance is never the goal. It’s Christ and the original intent of author. We can’t be dissatisfied with that.

    We tend to approach the Bible as if the moral application of a story to us is the obvious, ordinary, application of every text. And so if/when we don’t hammer it (as teachers/parents/preachers) many of us actually feel guilty! That amazes me when I look at a sermon I’ve prepared and feel dissatisfaction creeping in because I didn’t “dare to be a Daniel” as you put it.

    This article has helped me be more dedicated to the Scriptures being about Jesus and the story of the original audience and less about me.

    • MF


      Ms. Lloyd-Jones describes (“to [her] horror”) a time when she asked some children, “And so what can we learn from Daniel about how God wants us to live?”

      While we love her children’s Bible around my house, this represents what I would consider an extreme of exalting biblical theology (aka redemptive history) above the other valid perspectives that Scripture brings to us — including exemplary behavior of how we should live.

      John Frame criticizes the exclusively redemptive-historical approach (as Ms. Lloyd-Jones seems to advocate) in several places and defends “moral” and “exemplary” uses of Scripture as proper in their place. Here’s a quote from ch 16 of his Doctrine of the Christian Life:

      “[I]t is simply wrongheaded to deny the importance of concrete, practical, ethical application. Such application is the purpose of Scripture itself, according to 2 Tim. 3:16-17. And since Scripture itself contains many practical ‘how tos,’ our preaching should include those too. To say that this emphasis detracts from Christocentricity is unscriptural.

      “Christ is central in Scripture as the Redeemer. But he is also the Word, Wisdom, the Lawgiver, the Lord of the Covenant, the Lion of Judah, the Shepherd who leads his people into the right paths. It is wrong to assume that an emphasis on Christ as Redeemer (redemptive history) excludes an emphasis on Christ as norm and motivator.

      “When a preacher avoids concrete ethical applications in his sermons, he is not preaching the whole counsel of God, and he is not adequately edifying his people.”

      His view, and mine, is that a redemptive-historical approach is valid and edifying, but that it is also valid to look from other perspectives, including finding ourselves in Scripture’s pages via moral examples (and bad examples).

      • Robert Barnes

        Thank you for addressing me, personally. That means something that you want me to be better on target on this issue.

        I agree with Frame and do not avoid the ethical/moral perspective. I do emphasize it as the Scriptures emphasize it, following the contour of the overall story. In that, my perspective gains authority, the authority of God’s Word, as I deliver it to men, women and children.

        I continue to be happier as people realize that the default interpretation of every passage is NOT moral. But it is a legitimate perspective and we should welcome it when it’s presented from Scripture. Thank you for reminding me of that.

        • MF

          Thank you for the courteous reply, Robert, and I’m glad to see we are in harmony. Where would I be without Johnny Frame?

    • Brad

      Robert, I think my point is that we should preach and teach Scripture (which inherently has balance) and not be dissatisfied with that balance.

      I have seen many folks and preachers who turn the imperatives of Scripture into indicatives because they think their idea of “gospel grace” is better than what is actually written. Others refuse to use Biblical characters as moral examples, even though Scripture teaches us to use Biblcal characters and stories as moral examples.

      All I am suggesting is that we don’t think we are wiser than God and ‘sanitize’ the Bible of anything but grace (I am not insinuating that this Story-Bible does this…I haven’t read it).

      • Robert Barnes

        Brad, am I right that your presupposition is that the Bible is balanced, in this case, between the imperative and indicatives?

        As I think through the various lists of the perfections of Scripture, JC Ryle does one of my favorites, I don’t remember this idea of balance being presented.

        But in your favor, the book of Ephesians–balanced, chapters 1-3/4-6.
        And in your favor, familiar Psalms such as 1, 2, 23, 55, 139–it’s about God, it’s about our response.
        There are other portions of Scripture that have a word-count-based balance when it comes to God/us, or Gospel/law, or some other tension in this category. I’m guessing that we’d both read those and preach those with the balance that’s in the text.

        But what do you do when you come to stories that are all about God, all about covenant promises, all about the Davidic line of kings, all about clarifying that the proper worldview is not Mesopotamian henotheism, but monotheism?

        Some parents/teachers/pastors read stories like this and say:

        I’m not a covenant theologian.
        My kids aren’t ready for this.
        My congregation doesn’t care about this.

        So they have to come up with something to say. So they moralize.

        Can we agree that this is the problem (unbelief, failure to preach the plain meaning of Scripture)? Balance isn’t a problem here.

        To top it all off, many just don’t engage with the book of Hebrews, and the theme that the historical passages of the OT are about Jesus.

        And if a redemptive/historical writer/teacher comes along and does a book intended as an antidote to problems like this, I don’t see this as unbalanced–Unless we teach our children only from that children’s book!

        • Brad

          Hi Robert,

          You said: “Can we agree that this is the problem (unbelief, failure to preach the plain meaning of Scripture)? Balance isn’t a problem here.”

          I am glad to agree with you and I can say yes to that.

          I think you and I were using the word ‘balance’ differently. By pleading for “balance” I did not mean imposing a balance on Scripture; in fact, that is exactly what I am concerned about. In other words, I am concerned that ‘imbalanced’ theology is driving some to disregard certain legitimate teachings/uses of Scripture. I am concerned that we try to ‘fix’ the Bible in light of our theological commitments, rather than letting the Bible inform and correct our commitments

          Let the gospel be gospel, let the calls to faith be calls to faith, let the calls to obedience be calls to obedience, let the narratives of Scripture be read in the way that Scripture teaches us to read them (which, the NT demonstrates can be moral/spiritual examples as well as pictures of God’s saving grace and the promise of Jesus Christ; for the sake of specificity, i will point to 1 Peter 3:5-6 where Christian women are basically told “Dare to be a Sarah!”)

          Thank you for taking the time to interact with me, Christian brother. I hope our discussion is iron sharpening iron!

          Your brother in Christ,

          • Robert Barnes

            A pleasure to make your acquaintance.

  • Peter Beardsley

    As somebody who has taught Daniel to children, I largely agree. But the story is about them: it’s about the awesome power in God’s love, and His awesome power to save you, which He will do if you have faith. This is no less true for a 6 year old than a 60 year old.

    The point is to get the message right: teaching children that they are lost without Daniel-esque faith is wrong (Matthew 17:20). Daniel had incredible faith, and to Daniel gifts were given in proportion to his faith (Romans 12:6-8).

    Children should be taught that Daniel was a great example of a person of faith, but they are not expected to be at the level of a Daniel yet. Daniel is just an example of what God promises to do for you if faith grows.

    When dealing with children (I am a teacher of Kindergarten age people myself), or anyone else for that matter, the point is to scatter seed with the Word of God (Mark 4); to give them the pure milk for which they will thirst so long as you let them know that the Lord is gracious (1 Peter 2:2-3), and trust that God will provide the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7). But 1 Peter 2:3 is very important: they will only thirst if you let them know God is gracious.

    I would teach Daniel differently if my students were more mature Christians, a “meatier” Daniel if you will, but neither the point taught to children or the more mature is wrong. I teach Daniel to children as a story of hope that is about them: stay true to God, and rend your heart as to allow your faith to grow (Joel 2:13), and look at what God can do for you.

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  • Andrew

    Go Sally! You might be interested in checking out ‘The Seven Streams of Grace’, which is like your book on steroids. It has about 100 artworks covering hundreds of bible stories all explicitly connected to one another (‘Streams’ = themes) and all with Yahweh & Jesus as the hero. No Aesop’s Fables! It is used in various countries/ languages by adults and/ or kids and covers the whole bible in a day or across 1.5 years depending on your approach. Its here at
    Thanks for your gorgeous book.

  • Joan

    Thank you for sharing. I found it very helpful and it reminded me of how often we as parents and educators of our children miss the point of it all. It is all about Jesus and our dependence on Him and Him alone. Our children need to see that we depend on God’s grace for daily living, not how well we can keep the rules.

  • Anna

    I like the idea behind this Bible storybook, and I do think that every story should cause us to fall more in love with Jesus and to become more in awe of God. There is a problem with teaching morality outside of Christ, but the fact of the matter is that Daniel was living a set-apart, holy life. Because he was focused on God and living a set-apart, holy life, he experienced an amazing, powerful, relationship with God. I think that it is wrong not to teach your children that as followers of Christ they are meant to live a life that is set-apart from the world around them. I also think there is a danger that we could become so “moral” phobic that we forget holiness is an expected part of truly being a Christ-follower. Yes, Christ is central to the story, but our response to Him and our relationship to Him and understanding what that should look like is also important.

  • Women Living Well

    I love this post and it really made me think about the sort of questions I ask my 6 and 8 year old as I read them stories – thank you for this challenging perspective! And by the way, I LOVE our Jesus Storybook Bible! Thanks Sally!

    • David Misson

      How then should we live?

      We should live in awe and gratitude of the fact that God was and is absolutely faithful to his chosen people in situations where there was no hope of them taking care of themselves.

      Her point I THINK is, that if a child sees how God is faithful in the story they will be so taken by God they will be free to confess their failings, and throw themselves at the feet of this God who is faithful.

  • Jaron

    Love this book! My family has read through it together at least three times now. Morality is beneficial to the extent that it humbles us and points us to our need for Jesus. God’s righteous examples in scripture should show us Jesus, not inspire us to work on our moral image.

    I am constantly challenging my children (4 & 2.5) to live according to God’s moral standard, but not for the goal of having well-behaved children. I want them to grow in humility and dependence as they realize their need for Jesus. I have to regularly remind myself and teach my children that morally, “we can’t, but Jesus can and He did!” My wife and I consistently pray with our children, asking Jesus to change our hearts and help us to love Him and others.

    I love the fact that Jesus is the Hero of every story in scripture. It reinforces the fact that Jesus is the source of victory, life, holiness, righteousness… The list goes on. What about having well-behaved children? God willing, Jesus will produce His fruit in their lives as they learn to rely on Him for everything they need. Our job as parents is to humbly bring them with us to Jesus and let Him do the rest.

  • Ryan

    We love Lloyd Jones’ work; my children listen to the CDs of the Jesus Storybook Bible every night as they fall asleep, and have learned a great deal that way. I appreciate her post here, too, and I doubt she’s taking the anti-moral-application stance that some of the comments are debating. I understand her to be against a morally reductionistic approach, and I heartily agree!

    “When we drill a Bible story down into a moral lesson, we make it all about us. But the Bible isn’t mainly about us, and what we are supposed to be doing—it’s about God, and what he has done!”

    • MF

      Ryan, If she’s just against moral reductionism, then we’re all on the same page, and so tally ho and all that. But I read her self-described “horror” at drawing a moral lesson from Daniel as more than that. Perhaps I’ve read too much into it, but if so, I think it could be expressed more lucidly.

  • Bob Roberts

    Sally said: “And that’s why I wrote The Jesus Storybook Bible. So children could know what I didn’t: That the Bible isn’t mainly about me, and what I should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.”

    That is beautiful. Sounds to me alot like Psalm 78 (especially verse 4). Thank you for this resource…I will help spread the word about it.

  • Tom

    I agree with Brad in the story’s comment section. While God doesn’t want us following a list of rules he does emphasis keeping his commandments (John 15:14). This author seems to de-emphasize this aspect of God’s character. Further, I find it silly that the story of Daniel frightened her from having faith like him and that we should ignore his example of faith and only look at God’s salvation of Daniel. We are to do both. Every story/situation in the Bible is there to bring glory and focus back to God and we shouldn’t ignore the valuable lessons/examples of the people he worked through and their faith in Him. If we ignore the characters and the moral lessons learned then we might as well cross out Hebrews 11 and the Hero’s who had great faith in God. So yes, we must approach each story with a balance, and draw everything out of each story as is there to be drawn, while understanding the point of the story is to glorify God.

    She’s only emphasizing what God has done for us as she wrote: “But the Bible isn’t mainly about us, and what we are supposed to be doing—it’s about God, and what he has done!” I would disagree. Yes, the bible is about God and what he has done, but the Bible is equally about what we will do with Christ (Matthew 27:22 Pilate asking what he should do with Christ) and his gospel! (Mark 8:35 “…but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s the same shall save it.”) I believe she fails to leave out this important information to her readers, therefore her view is one-sided (short-sited). God didn’t create us and give us His Word for us to just know about Him, but to do something about it! (James 1:22 “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”) So what she wrote was true, but she left out equally important truth. It’s kind of like those preachers that believe that we are to soley focus on soul-winning. They neglect the other equal part of the great commission – evangelize/baptize. So somehow they’ve won 100 people to Christ but not one of them are attending any church, there’s no fruit. We as Christians must be balanced especially when it comes to the Word of God (Proverbs 11:1 “A false balance is abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.”)

    • Tom

      On a side note – I would probably enjoy reading her book to my 2 year old daughter, I just do not agree with the thrust of this post.

      • Brad

        Tom, I agree with your side-note and it is good to make that clear. I have no issue with this book (i haven’t read it). My problem is likewise with the thrust of the post here.

        At home I use the Big Picture Story Book Bible with my kids which is, as the name implies, a redemptive-historical tracing of Christ and the promises of the Gospel through Scripture. It is, perhaps, much like this “baby-bible” (as we call them around our house).

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  • Adam B.

    “That the Bible isn’t mainly about me, and what I should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.” These two sentences need to be combined into one. The Bible is all about what God has done and what I should be doing in response to all that He has done. II Timothy 3:16-17

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  • Kim

    This reminds me that I had a similar reaction to the Daniel story when I was a kid… figured that if I were in his position, I would just “pretend” to bow down to the king, but I would “really” be praying to God while I was doing it.

  • RZ

    I was quite surprised to read this view from the author of the Jesus Story book Bible, specifically because of the retelling of the serpent’s words to Eve in Genesis in the JSB. The JSB informs the reader that the serpent told Eve that God doesn’t love her, NOT that she would be like God if she ate the fruit. I was very troubled by this misinformation, but I’m even more surprised by this article, since it seems to be an example of precisely the opposite of what Ms. Lloyd-Jones is promoting here

    • mel

      Anyone that has raised a child to an adult or can still remember what it is like to be a teen, knows that at heart of rebelling against a parent is the irrational belief that the parent doesn’t love them.

      IF YOU LOVED ME! You would let me do such and such. You don’t really love me or you wouldn’t stop me from being able to do….
      I HATE YOU, You are sooo mean!

      Total rebellion against the love that helped create you. If you completely trusted in that love, like a little child, then you wouldn’t question it.

      • RZ

        That may be, Mel, but do you think the characterization of the serpent’s words are accurate?

  • Bill Kollar

    Here’s how one of our kids told someone about Daniel in the Lion’s Den. If it rings a bell from The Jesus Storybook Bible, it’s because he’s read it over and over and over again. He’s not reading anything; he’s just recalling the story as influenced by Sally Lloyd-Jones’ retelling. We’re so very thankful for Sally and for that book, both for our kids’ sake and for ours!

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  • J.Kru

    It’s a great book. I think it’s fair enough to say that one of the function of the Gospel is to break the grip that sin has in our lives. So it’s right to make Jesus the hero of the story. And it’s also right to help kids see what we do with our lives when the grip of sin has been broken. Should you bow down to idols? NO? Why not? Because Jesus loves me! It seems some folks, in wanting to put the cart behind the horse where it belongs, just cut the cart loose entirely and let the horse run free. Let’s put the horse before the cart.

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  • Jessica

    Yes, we keep His commandments, but only because we love Him, and we only love Him, because HE FIRST LOVED US! That’s why Jesus is totally the Hero of the Bible. Sally is not advocating moral bankruptcy. She is speaking of a heart change, not an outward obedience which kills. It is only when we understand the radical, unconditional love and grace of Jesus, that we really change. The Pharisees seemed pretty good on the outside too, but Jesus is pretty scathing about the condition of their hearts.

    I totally related to what she was saying about her childhood. It was as if she were talking about mine!

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  • John Hutson

    I love the Jesus Storybook Bible. It presents the covenental and redemptive themes in Scripture that many adults don’t understand in a way that children can grasp.

    I’m just going to quote the third question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism to illustrate the problem I sometimes have with it:

    Q: What do the scriptures principally teach?
    A: The scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

    I think in a (laudable) desire to discourage works-righteousness, the Jesus Storybook Bible neglects the second purpose of Scripture given in the Catechism.

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  • John Hendrickson

    The author does have the right starting point in not turning one’s relationship and duty to God into moralisms, at least it is the right starting point. But there is more to it than what is offered as the right thing to do.

    Preaching today seems to be – despite its declaration to be “Christ centered – all about “me”. “If YOU were the only person in the world, Jesus would have still died for YOU.” “Jesus is the answer to YOUR miseries.” “Jesus it the palliative for all YOUR troubles.” Every sermon seems to boil down to how the text applies to you personally in your own little world. And on and on. Everything seems to reduce down to what was once described as morbid introspectionism. In other words, it is all about ME and how I feel and how I can be ministered to, how can I hang on in this horrible life, etc. etc.

    When the author speaks of the message of the Bible being a “story”, that puts things in perspective. I become a small piece in God’s Grand Plan. Sure, it includes human beings as a necessary part. But it is a GRAND plan, not focused on the individual but on Him and what part WE as a group play in His implementation of that Plan.

    Until the church teaches the next generation this perspective so that it becomes more oriented to the BIG PICTURE, the people of God will remain an anemic, irrelevant and ineffective player in the Plan of God. Of course, the church will eventually become activated and empowered by the Spirit to that end. But that does not mean we are not to strive to be such in our day and age. And key to that is the understanding that God is writing a story in history, the cavalry arrived in the person of Christ 2,000 years ago, the battle has been engaged and there will be a happy ending in Time and History as well as in Eternity.

    Don’t get me wrong. There IS a place for the personal application to the microcosm of my world. The problem is that is what has been made the be all and end all of the Christian experience.

  • David Severy

    The lovingkindness of God leads us to repentance. Romans 2:4
    If we know God who IS Love, and are born again of His Spirit we will be led of His Spirit to obey His Commandments, in particular the two great commandments. Perfect love casts out fear, fraidy cat fear that is. 1 John 4:18 Perfect love inspires humility and boldness to come to the Throne of God for mercy in time of need and to walk as Jesus walked. Hebrews 4:16; 1 John 2:6

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  • Armando

    Tullian Tchividjian has some very spot on comments about “balance” here:

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  • Dan Harding

    Thank you so much for writing this book. Amazing for all of God’s children, no matter the age.

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