Gordon-Conwell Blog

Learning from Our Church Fathers: Part 8

February 28, 2013

Dr. Donald Fairbairn

This is Part 5 in a series about why evangelicals should care about the early church. If you are just now joining us, you can read Part 1 here; Part 2 here; Part 3 here; Part 4 here; Part 5 here; Part 6 here; Part 7 here.

One of the figures from the early church who has sparked the most controversy is Theodore of Mopsuestia, who lived in what is today southern Turkey in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. Theodore lived his life in relative obscurity, but after his death his Christological thought (like that of his more famous student Nestorius) was condemned by the church. But scholars in the 19thand 20th centuries have argued that the condemnation of Theodore (and maybe also of Nestorius) was unjust, the product of church politics more than doctrinal inadequacies.

Part of the reason many modern scholars have sought to rehabilitate Theodore is the fact that they have regarded him as the greatest biblical interpreter in the early church. He is thought to have been the supreme example of the so-called “Antiochene school,” whose proponents sought to take the Bible literally and to take history seriously, in contrast to the “Alexandrian school,” whose proponents allegedly denigrated history through allegorical interpretation and philosophical speculation. This neat dichotomy between the two schools has been increasingly called into question by patristics scholars, but it remains very influential and still dominates most books on the history of biblical interpretation.

A couple of days ago I read a new translation of Theodore’s commentary on John’s Gospel. As I expected, I found much evidence of the concern for history that modern scholars find attractive. Theodore has a long discussion of the relation between the Synoptic Gospels and John’s Gospel. He injects many points of historical background into his exposition of specific passages. And he is particularly concerned to show how the various resurrection narratives in the four Gospels fit together without contradiction. All of these concerns are characteristic of Theodore as I knew him from other writings of his that I’ve read previously, and this historical concern is very commendable.

At the same time, this commentary also confirmed what I’ve long held to be the central problem with Theodore’s thought—he sees Christ not as God the Son incarnate, but as a man in whom the Word of God dwells. In John 3:13, 8:58, and 17:24 (among other passages), Jesus indicates that he—not just his divine nature but he as a person—has always existed and always been in fellowship with the Father. In his discussions of the first two passages, Theodore refuses to say that the Son as a person has come down from heaven or that Jesus as a person has existed before Abraham. Even more strikingly, in discussing Jesus’ statement that the Father has loved him before the foundation of the world (John 17:24), Theodore takes this to mean that the Father foreknew that he would love the man Jesus once he was born on earth, rather than taking it to mean that the Father loved the pre-existent Son from all eternity past.

These passages do indeed indicate that Theodore’s understanding of Christ was problematic (something I’ve argued on the basis of reading his other writings), but they also indicate something else. Why do scholars say that Theodore takes the Bible literally if he feels compelled to interpret some of Jesus’ most direct statements about his eternal pre-existence and eternal relationship to the Father in such non-literal ways? It is certainly true that Theodore takes many biblical passages more literally than orthodox church fathers do. But when it comes to passages on the most central affirmation of the Christian faith, Theodore seems much less literal than the orthodox church fathers. On what basis, then, should we classify Theodore’s interpretation as “literal” and others’ interpretation as “allegorical,” when the accuracy of those descriptors depends on which biblical passages one is considering?

You see, “literal” and “allegorical” are not merely neutral descriptors. They are labels with significant value judgments attached to them. To allegorize, we seem to think, is always bad. To take the Bible literally, we think, is always good. In fact, though, no one takes every biblical passage literally. All interpreters have a rationale for understanding some passages in one way and other passages in another way. When we study—and seek to learn from—the biblical interpretation of the early church, the value judgments attached to the labels “literal” and “allegorical” may hinder our task of understanding why they interpreted the Bible the way they did. Maybe we need to seek to understand more deeply, without being so quick to label patristic biblical interpretation as either “literal” or “allegorical.”

Dr. Donald Fairbairn is the Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity. His responsibilities include further developing the Robert C. Cooley Center for the Study of Early Christianity at the Charlotte campus, which explores the historical foundations of the Christian faith.

 

 

 

Tags: Author: Donald Fairbairn , equipping leaders for the church and society , faculty blogger

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The Push and Pull of Grace | Seminary Student Blogger

February 26, 2013

Amy Gilbaugh

Grace is a wanton commodity in our economy of checks and balances. It is a strange creature; a peculiar beast of unknown proportions. We are a people of rush and do-to, and we hurry past grace noting the way she sits awkwardly in the midst of our busy. Grace—the thing of gifting and giving and forgiveness. And just her posture provokes craving and yet makes us shift in our seats. If we’re honest, grace makes us just a bit uncomfortable. We like knowing our debts are paid from our own pockets, our time is managed by our own multi-tasking, and our memories are maintained by our own control. We would rather not have to handle grace or call upon her services. We are a self-propelled people, hastening on and on not taking unless we can repay:

We’d love to come to dinner, but what can we bring?
Oh no, please let me pay; really, I prefer it.
Sure you can take my kids this afternoon, but we’d like to have Tommy our way next week.

And yet, when the sun sets and the schedule calms, when the bustle runs out and the dust of the day settles, we cannot escape the reality that we are a people for whom grace must be prescribed. At the end of the day, at the end of ourselves, we are all too well aware that all our efforts will not suffice. When we are late, those minutes will not return to our watches. When we forget a birthday, no length of words will satisfy. When the money runs out or the credit card is maxed, there simply are no more pennies to throw to the gatherers. And in the midst of our lost minutes and money, grace speaks a language we do not understand. Falling foreign on our ears are words of nothing owed and abundant pardon. And while they are strange to our hearing, they come like balm on our failures nonetheless. Well aware of our shortcomings, we turn ourselves at last to grace. Grace, the stuff that wedges itself in the cracks of our lives, between the lacking and the wanting, holding all together and whispering, All is pardoned, all is covered. Let’s try again tomorrow. And surrendered to her presence we wrap ourselves up and finally let our eyelids rest.

Hi, friend. I'm Amy. Mostly, I’m just another twenty-something trying to figure out the stuff of life. I am a nerdy seminary student who loves the smell of old books and early mornings in the library. I am an artist wanabee, a liberal to the conservative and conservative to the liberal, guilty social justice groupie, and a recovering Bible know-it-all with the unreal ability to put my foot in my mouth an astonishing number of times each day. I am a sister to eight of the most hysterical creatures ever created. Good theology, used book stores, and autumn make me giddy. I preach passionately, think deeply, and ask too many questions. I write prayers, poetry and prose. I write about preaching bad and good, gender roles in the Church, the sacraments, stupid things we do on Sunday, politics, and almost everything else that you are not supposed to discuss in polite company. I also blog at oneyellowbird.blogspot.com. Welcome to the journey.

Tags: Author: Amy Gilbaugh , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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Beautiful, Amy.... Thank you. What a gift of passion and words... Enjoy and pursue using them for Jesus' sake and others' encouragement and... ' provocation' ...!
Suzanne Carter 9:43AM 03/19/13

Die Well | Seminary Student Blogger

February 21, 2013

Dim Alldridge

I’m not really a fan of blogs. Am I allowed to say that on a blog? Yes I am, and that’s the problem with blogs! I can say anything, and most of the time I don’t have much to say, and what I do have is certainly not worth reading.

Perhaps the other problem with blogs is that most of the people who should write them don’t or can’t.

That is the case with Samuel Rutherford. Praise the Lord that blogs weren’t invented in the 17th century! But letters were and the letters that Rutherford wrote are (I think) some of the most marvelous ever written. Do yourself a favour sometime and get a copy of The Letters of Samuel Rutherford out of the library, make a cup of tea, find a comfy chair and spend a few hours slowly reading the words of a man who really understood, believed and pinned his life upon the truth of God’s sovereignty.

I’m not the only fan of Samuel Rutherford of course. Another fan is Faith Cook and she has taken many of Rutherford’s letters, which almost read like poetry in the first place, and put them in poetic form.

Here is one.

Rutherford once wrote to a friend called John Kennedy who had recently miraculously been saved from an accident at sea that should have killed him. In typical Rutherford style he took the opportunity to write and teach Kennedy from his experience.

But entry was denied—the door was locked
For Christ who holds the key of death
Bade you return, restored your breath,
Your life He kindly spared,
For He who reads the heart, knew well
The armour of your soul was unprepared
To foil the Prince of hell.

Now in the strength of Jesus rise with haste,
Your eager course fulfill with joy, nor waste
The lingering hours of time’s short day;
For evening falls and beckons you away
To stand before the gate.
And then, die well, for life’s last tide
Must swiftly ebb and will for no man wait
One moment more beside.

Die well, and Christ the Master of the grave
Will pilot you through death’s impetuous wave;
He knows the rocks, the shifting sand,
The proud winds bow before His least command.
It is but once we die,
And none returns to try again;
Then well prepare, till you with joy reply.
‘For me to die is gain’.

(Taken from Rutherford’s Letter 22)

Dimitri (Dim for short) and his wife, Gayles, moved to the U.S. from England in 2011 to pursue a Master of Divinity degree from Gordon-Conwell. He grew up in a little town in England called Sevenoaks and completed his undergraduate degree in Automobile Design at the University of Coventry. Upon graduation, Dim spent some time as a ski instructor, a church intern and an assistant pastor. When he’s not pretending to study, he’s usually dreaming about skiing.

Tags: Author: Dim Alldridge , current students , future students , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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Meet Our Alumni | Anatoliy Glukhovskyy

February 19, 2013

Ever wonder what people do after seminary? Alumnus Anatoliy Glukhovskyy (D.Min. '07) is president of Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary in Kiev. His study focused on Redemptive Leadership and Organizational Leadership within the Church. With 20 years of ministry under his belt, Dr. Glukhovskyy shares about the influence that Gordon-Conwell has on his current work in Ukraine.

Tags: Alumni , current students , future students

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Dentist Chair Confession | Seminary Student Blogger

February 14, 2013

Tim Norton

Here’s the deal. My brother is a physical therapist and my sister-in-law is a dentist. Yeah. Top that. Me? I’m a walking tax write-off. As a future pastor, I may not be rolling in the dough later in life but I’ll always be able to play the tax card. It’s my ace in the hole. *sigh* But I digress—having doctors for siblings isn’t so bad. It’s kind of fun to say “Oh, Dr. Norton? I’m his/her little brother…Why yes he/she is wonderful!...Yes, I’m terribly proud of them…What procedure are you seeing them for?...Oh wow!...Funny that you mention it, I think that’s the class he/she had to repeat a few times. Hopefully they get it right this time!...I’m sure it’ll be fine…Besides, that classroom case was bogus. There’s no way to prove that amputation was the his/her fault…Take care!”

Ah yes. The joys of being a little brother. So, this Christmas, my sister-in-law discovered it had been a little bit since I had been to a dentist. And by a little bit, I mean three years. It went down like this.

Me: I know, I know. It’s bad. But I didn’t have dental insurance for a while so I didn’t want to go.
Sister-in-law: Tim, you were only out of insurance for a year.
Me: Right.
Sister-in-law: What’d you do the two years after that?
Me: …um. Well… um… you see…

Family. They have an uncanny way of seeing right through you. Gotta love ‘em for it. Truth was that I didn’t go to the dentist for the first year because of insurance. I didn’t go the second year because I was lazy. I didn’t go the third year because I was too embarrassed. And now my whole family knew, which made me even more embarrassed! At this point I had no choice but to schedule an appointment with none other than Norton DMD herself. I tried to warn her that it was probably gonna be bad. She assured me everything was going to be fine…

I don’t want to talk about how many cavities I had. It was gross. Not only that, my top two wisdom teeth grew in and my bottom two decided they wanted to do a rendition cirque-de-inside-Tim’s-mouth by impacting, twisting inward, and bullying my molars. Poor molars. So, what started as a routine visit to the dentist became a 6-hour appointment across two visits. 6 hours in the same chair gives you a lot of time to think. And you know what I realized? My pride kept me from doing the very thing that I knew I needed to do. Exposing my teeth to my sister-in-law hurt my ego more than anything. It was ego that kept me from getting an appointment sooner.

I don’t wanna project on anyone (ok let’s be real, I really do love projecting) but I’m pretty sure we can all relate. Somewhere deep down there is a part of us that wants to manage our less favorable, even sinful parts of our life. We want to run a good PR campaign for ourselves. We don’t want to expose ourselves to the very people who can help us get better. I think that’s why confession is such a big deal. Confession is a pride killer. Confession is the opposite of sin management. Confession sucks. But confession is important. To be sure, I’m not saying you need to post a Facebook status about your every shortcoming. Please don’t be that person. (Seriously, don’t be that person.) But I challenge you to have someone in your life that really knows you, someone that you can expose some of the things lurking beneath the surface. From my experience, it’s much easier to experience God’s grace and forgiveness after confiding in someone and hearing their grace and truth-filled response.

This isn’t anything new. After committing the first sin ever, Adam and Eve were more interested in sin management than confession:

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.””
(Genesis 3:8–10 NIV emphasis mine)

Don’t miss this. Adam and Eve’s first reaction after sinning is to attempt to hide the nakedness. The shame of nakedness is overwhelming. They try and hide who they are in their fallen and broken state. They can’t undo what they’ve done and, rather than confess it, they attempt to “fix” themselves without letting anyone (in this case God) know about it. However many millions/billions of years later (or thousands depending on your point of view), I’m doing the same thing.

I have a wardrobe full of sewn-together leaves designed to hide my nakedness from God, myself and others. Though I cognitively know the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I still am inclined to hide my sin rather than confess it. I desperately try and manage a carefully crafted public image at the expensive of receiving the help I need.

After exposing the fullness of their sins, God explains to Adam and Eve the consequences of their actions. Notice, though, that God is also very gracious in the scenario. Yes, there are natural consequences, but God also makes clothes to cover their nakedness.

Now, you may say to yourself, “Psh! I privately confess my sins to God. I don’t need to tell anyone else about it.” Guess what? That’s pride. We are designed to function relationally. We experience the grace of God relationally. We experience the forgiveness of God relationally. Suck it up and try it. Try it in the next 2 weeks. Grab a trusted friend or mentor and have a difficult conversation. It may be about as fun as sitting in a dentist chair for 6 hours. Truth be told, it may be worse than that for a time. But there is nothing that compares to the freedom of being known fully and loved anyway.

Tim Norton is a born-and-raised, small-town Southerner with the sweet tea addiction to prove it. He comes to Gordon-Conwell as a Kern Pastor-Scholar and plans to pursue pastoral ministry in the U.S. after graduation. Tim is a big personality with a strange affinity for the color orange. Currently, he attends GENESIS Church, an Acts 29 church plant in Woburn, MA.
 

 

 

Tags: Author: Tim Norton , biblically-grounded , spiritually vital , student blogger

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A great illustration with just the right amount of Tim flare to spice it up! Thanks for fonding the truth even in the dentist's chair!
Philip Long 6:29PM 02/14/13

A State of Being: Unique | Seminary Student Blogger

February 12, 2013

Kate Hightower

I will never forget the first time I visited Greenwich Village in New York City. It’s got a ragged heartbeat that pounds beneath the street and vibrates up through your feet. Whispers of revolutions long-past carry through the breezes amongst the essence of fresh bread from that one bakery on Bleecker Street. Art was everywhere and in everyone I passed. At 21, I had never seen anything like it. Nor had I ever felt more at home. It was in one of the first few years that I really started to get into Bob Dylan that I was fortunate enough to visit the place that launched him into the world.

I love Bob Dylan.

He’s a restless, wandering genius. He’ll tell you that straight to your face, too. He’ll tell you there’s no one like him. He’ll tell you he was born in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and he is simply a traveling troubadour, fulfilling his destiny before God takes him.

I swallowed this notion whole at a ripe age of 21. So fast that I didn’t even have a chance to see what it was that I’d be digesting. It has been dormant for years, suppressed by methods of my own design. But now, thanks to God’s skillful hand, this notion is beginning to take root somewhere in my soul. It holds up a mirror to my face as it begins to spread throughout my blood stream, it beats wildly, stunning me into a silence I recognize as an old friend, and yet someone I fear with all of my existence. Like a place I could never seem to find, but where I should have been all along. Someone or someplace that was robbed from me early, and I kept trying to get back to.

We’re all just trying to get home, to the house of our Father and bring as many people with us as we can.

As for Bob Dylan, he affected me so much so, that I feel better about the world knowing that he’s out there somewhere doing his thing, still existing, and still fascinating the masses. He’s like a giant, purple ink stain on art history. Even though his music is an acquired taste for most, he still manages to make everybody think. He’s mysterious enough to really make you scratch your head and wonder what he’s up to.

At 21, God used the musings of a legendary musician to show me it’s cool if you’re a little bit different than what everyone thinks you should be. For me, it’s been a life-long battle to finally accept who I was and stop trying to be everyone else. Now, I’m finally starting to really understand what that means.

We should always be making people think. We should all always be a little bit different.

I may still be enamored with the Old Testament, but in the name YHWH, God wasn’t messing around with the details. He told Israel exactly who he was in that name, and therefore painting a glorious picture for us. God’s presence in the name YHWH carries beautifully throughout the rest of the Old Testament when suddenly in a flash of Divine brilliance, it’s incarnated into a Man. The God-Man walked the earth and did the unthinkable...
...he died
...and came back.
...for love.

The world, to this day, really doesn’t know what to do with that. The only thing they have to go on is us. And we, as his followers, are charged with the task of reflecting the weight of that unspeakable magnitude.

We’re all supposed to be a little bit different.

Kate Hightower is writing to you in the midst of her Master of Divinity pursuit at Gordon-Conwell—Jacksonville where she is also a Byington Scholar. She is a debilitatingly right-brained, born-in-the-wrong-century, introspective pseudo-nerd with passions that range anywhere from writing, to French cooking to Bob Dylan. These days she resides in Jacksonville with one mental foot in the GCTS Library downtown, and the other is beach-side with her Golden Retriever, Stella… the world's first dog superhero.

Tags: Author: Kate Hightower , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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Wow! Well thought out, well said ( very well said ) great message. So proud of you. Love you
Scarlett2050@gmail.com 2:24PM 02/14/13

Learning from Our Church Fathers: Part 7

February 07, 2013

Dr. Donald Fairbairn

This is Part 5 in a series about why evangelicals should care about the early church. If you are just now joining us, you can read Part 1 here; Part 2 here; Part 3 here; Part 4 here; Part 5 here; Part 6 here.

One of the things I tell my students is that unity among Christians—real unity, that is—cannot be forged. This usually comes as a surprise, because we often speak of trying to “be uniters” or to “forge unity” among competing parties or groups. But if we think about it, we recognize that “forge” can mean two things—either “manufacture” (as in forging a wheel out of iron) or “fake” (as in forging a painting). Almost by definition, if we fake unity by ignoring substantial differences between two or more Christian groups, what we wind up with is merely the semblance of unity, not the real thing. Likewise, we cannot manufacture unity. As hard as we may sometimes work toward unity, we cannot produce it out of nothing. If it isn’t already there, we can’t make it come about. In contrast to either manufacturing or faking unity, I tell my students that real unity has to be discovered.

To say this is to admit that many times, there is a real unity between different groups of Christians but that the unity is obscured, hidden in some way. In Christian history, what has sometimes obscured whatever unity may have been present was either ill will (refusal to believe that the other side had good intentions and even that that other side might agree with us) or terminological confusion (using the same words to mean different things, or using seemingly opposing words to mean the same thing, without realizing that this was happening). As I have studied the controversies of the early church, I have repeatedly been amazed by the way these two factors have conspired to obscure how much consensus was actually present on the great theological issues of the day.

One example on which I’ve written recently (in an article coming out this April in Journal of Theological Studies) has to do with the complicated interaction between two groups in the fourth century who were both trying to articulate the relation between God the Father and God the Son. We label these groups Homoousians and Homoiousians (notice the letter “i” that distinguishes those two words). The Homoousians affirmed that the Son is “of one substance” with the Father, using the Greek word homoousios which the Council of Nicaea had used in 325 and which would eventually be retained in the Nicene Creed in 381. The Homoiousians, in contrast, preferred to say that the Son was “like the Father in substance,” using the Greek word homoios (“like” or “similar”), and their phrase was not ultimately used by the church in its creedal statements.

It may look like these two groups did not share the same view of the Son. Indeed, the Homoiousians themselves did not think they were saying the same thing as the Homoousians, because at a synod in Ancyra (Ankara today, the capital of Turkey) in A.D. 358, they actually condemned anyone who used the word homoousios to describe the Son’s relation to the Father. Some of the Homoousians (like Epiphanius of Salamis) also thought that they were not saying the same thing, and they condemned the Homoiousians.

But I suggest that the two groups—who between them comprised most of the Christian church in the fourth century—were in fact saying the same thing about God the Son. After all, “of one substance” and “like in substance” could mean the same thing, if one takes “like” to mean “exactly like.” If I’m right about this, then the consensus in the fourth-century church about the Son’s relation to the Father was greater than we often think. There was more unity than we realize—or than they realized—but that unity was obscured and had to be discovered before a consensus articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity could be achieved.

Studying issues like this forces me to ask, How much more unity is there among us—between the fractured and sometimes fractious groups of the Christian church—than we realize? Do we allow terminological differences to obscure a consensus that is actually there? Do we not even try to look for any possible unity because of our ill will toward other groups of Christians? My research in the early church has led me to believe that back then, there was more of a consensus about the faith than our books normally tell us today, and even more of a consensus than people at the time realized. Might that also be the case today?

Dr. Donald Fairbairn is the Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity. His responsibilities include further developing the Robert C. Cooley Center for the Study of Early Christianity at the Charlotte campus, which explores the historical foundations of the Christian faith.

 

 

 

Tags: Author: Donald Fairbairn , equipping leaders for the church and society , faculty blogger

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At the End of the Day | Seminary Student Blogger

February 05, 2013

 Amy Gilbaugh

There are moments like these, coming at the end of an academic day, that make all the world seem to halt. I've had Hebrew and flipped flash cards and read books and articles and syllabi. The whirr of academics is constant and becomes merely background noise, going almost unnoticed as the semester takes its shape and pace.

I've been reading here all day, and took in words of Your wonder and majesty from the pens of saints long ago—mothers and fathers of our faith who knew the same You and wrote of the very same You in a setting anything but the same. I've translated the Text and furrowed my brow at the philosophical theologians of modernity and tried to wrap my head around the complexities of spiritual formation.

And then I looked up and looked out the window. A storm is rolling in. Thick and rich clouds are churning above and make me feel all so very small.

And I'm reminded again that Your ways are mysterious and wonderful. They can be written about, but there are not books enough to hold them. They can be preached about, but no human language can encapsulate them. Arguments can be formed and persuasions can be attempted, but this day has no lesson better than sitting beneath Your threatening sky.

Hi, friend. I'm Amy. Mostly, I’m just another twenty-something trying to figure out the stuff of life. I am a nerdy seminary student who loves the smell of old books and early mornings in the library. I am an artist wanabee, a liberal to the conservative and conservative to the liberal, guilty social justice groupie, and a recovering Bible know-it-all with the unreal ability to put my foot in my mouth an astonishing number of times each day. I am a sister to eight of the most hysterical creatures ever created. Good theology, used book stores, and autumn make me giddy. I preach passionately, think deeply, and ask too many questions. I write prayers, poetry and prose. I write about preaching bad and good, gender roles in the Church, the sacraments, stupid things we do on Sunday, politics, and almost everything else that you are not supposed to discuss in polite company. I also blog at oneyellowbird.blogspot.com. Welcome to the journey.

Tags: Author: Amy Gilbaugh , current students , future students , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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thank you
balik burcu 9:59PM 03/18/13

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