The Parable of the Talents

The Mandates of Matthew 25 Page 3

Strangers and Pilgrims on the Earth Part II

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This is one of the best known of Jesus' Parables. It is also well known, in an elementary way, what the meaning is: We are supposed to use our talents in the Lord's service. There is no question about that. You have heard the old saying, "use it or lose it". From what Jesus said in this Parable, we can understand that we must use our talents in His service or risk losing everything! But there is a major point in this Parable that is often misunderstood. This point is so important that properly defining and applying it will be the difference between many Christians being ready or not being ready. For some Christians, this could even make the difference between heaven and hell. The major point is in how we define the word, "talent".

What Are "Talents"?

When most English-speaking Christians think of the word "talent", in the human sense, they use the common, secular definition. That is, they think of a talent as what would be more precisely referred to as a natural aptitude. And when Christians think of using their "talents" in the Lord's service, they are usually thinking of using their natural aptitudes.  Unfortunately, that is not what Jesus was referring to.

Let us take a look at the context of the giving of the "Talents", in Matthew 25:14-15


14.    For the kingdom of heaven is as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
15.    And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.

Now consider what is said here: this Parable about something that happens in the kingdom of heaven. The people to whom the Talents were given were all the master's servants. There were no strangers involved. Therefore, we conclude that true "Talents" are given only to Christians. Then notice some key words in verse 15: "...to every man according to his several ability...". In other words, the master knew the servants well enough to know what their natural aptitudes were. He didn't give them all the same amount. Notice what the servant who got only one Talent did with it: he buried it instead of investing it. This suggests that the master knew him well enough not to trust him with too much.  The Talents, therefore, are something given in addition to, and in the light of, one's natural aptitudes, and also in light of the person's character. So what are they?

We get another clue from the fact that the two servants faithful servants went out and used the Talents to make more money for the master. The Talents were given to the servants to be used in the master's service. Even the wicked servant did not try to use the money for anything else. The master's service was the only thing that the Talents could be used for. So, again, what are they? We must look for something in the Bible that fits these three conditions:

  1. They are given only to Christians.

  2. They are given in the knowledge of, and in addition to, one's natural aptitudes.

  3. They are given only for the Lord's service.

So, yet again, what are they?

There is only one thing in the Bible that fulfills these conditions.

Gifts of the Holy Spirit!!!

In particular, what are sometimes called Service Gifts, as in Ephesians 4: 11-12 and I Corinthians 12:28, respectively:

11   "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12   For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ..."

28    "And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues."

You will notice from the context that that these things are also given exclusively for the Lord's service!

Before we go into detail about that, there is one very serious point that must be made:

Contrary to what many Christians believe;

Natural aptitudes are not Gifts of the Holy Spirit!!!

As stated, Gifts of the Holy Spirit are given for the Lord's service. They can not be used for anything else. To try to do so is to risk receiving God's wrath, and the loss of the Gift. Samson lost his strength, which was a gift of the Holy Spirit (Judges 14:6) because he got careless about obedience. He was obviously using the charisma of his strength to get sex! (See also Judges 16:1-3.) You can't lose a natural aptitude, except by crippling accident or disease.

Natural aptitudes can be used for anything. Adolph Hitler could have been considered, in the secular sense, a "talented" orator and administrator. Do you think that God made a special point of giving him those aptitudes? Again, the people who create pornography could often be considered "talented" artists, writers, and photographers. No way did God make a special gift to them of those aptitudes. A natural aptitude can be considered only a gift from God to the extent that life itself is a gift from God. But beyond that, natural aptitudes are mainly a matter of chance. The Bible does say there is a chance factor in life. See Ecclesiastes 9:11. God has to allow it to give man a free will. See also "How God Works In History".

No one is born physically with a "Talent", in the Biblical sense, unless he happens to be one of those few people who are born filled with the Holy Spirit (see Luke 1:15).

The trouble with the erroneous definition is that if a Christian thinks his natural aptitudes are his Biblical "Talents", that is, his "spiritual gifts", he may concentrate on developing them to the point that he never learns what his true spiritual gifts are. The result will be a fruitless Christian life, in any sense that really means anything eternally, and he will absolutely not be ready for the Tribulation. It may also happen that the Christian will get so involved emotionally with his natural aptitudes that they will become his idol, and he may turn away from the Lord completely in the pursuit of success. This is not a hypothetical idea; this writer knows real cases in point.

"Talents" are for Ministry

Again, "talents" are given only for ministry. If something is really a gift of the Holy Spirit, you can find it in the Bible. If something is really a Christian ministry, you can find that in the Bible too. Because of the misinterpretation of the word "talent", many Christians today are doing things for which there is no Biblical basis and calling them ministries. For example, many Christians are doing theater and calling it ministry.  There are Christians who think that their acting ability is a gift of the Holy Spirit. But there is no mention of theater as we know it in the Bible. The only mention of the word "actor" in the Bible is in the original Greek meaning of the word "hypocrite". Yes, that’s right. The Greek word ‘upocritas, which we transliterate as "hypocrites", literally means "actors". Jesus could not have thought much of the acting profession, or he wouldn’t have used the word the way He did. The origin of theater as we know it was in pagan Greece, and the plays that  were written and produced back then often had to do with Grecian idolatry. Bluntly,  theater still has a lot to do with idolatry. That’s why Christians shouldn't have anything to do with it.

Ministry must be based on the Word of God

There is Biblical reason to believe that doing something as ministry that is not of God is a serious sin. The basis of this idea is the story of the two sons of Aaron; Nadab and Abihu, who offered "strange fire" before the Lord (Leviticus 10:1 &2). They were promptly burned alive by God for their trouble. This is an allegory of the error of a person deciding to serve God his own way, as opposed to God’s way, and what God’s reaction to it is. This was also what originally got Cain in trouble (Genesis 4: 3-5). You don’t tell God how you are going to serve Him. He tells you. For example, Saul (i.e. Paul) didn't tell God what he was going to do as ministry. God told him. See Acts 9:15 & 16 and 13:1-3. But there are many Christians today who, because of their misunderstanding of this Parable, are serving God their way. Christians who do this are not going to have a prayer of being ready. Make sure there is Scriptural basis in teaching and/or precedent for anything you do as ministry. Otherwise, you are spiritually wasting your time – or worse.

There is another important difference between natural aptitudes and spiritual gifts. To use a true "talent", which of course means doing real, Scriptural ministry, you have to be a servant. This may mean that you may not be able to do what you want to do with your "talent". As Jesus said, in Matthew 20:26, "whoever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant." If you are doing something that is really ministry, it will be doing some kind of service. To use a "talent" in obedience to God, you may have to wait on Him to give you the opportunity. None less than Martin Luther wrote that if you, especially as a young Christian, open a door for yourself, you may be rebelling against God. You must be willing to accept service that requires humility. A problem with many Christians, especially young ones, is that they will, so to speak, say, "I have a gift" or "I have a ministry", when, if they spoke the truth, they would say, "I am on an ego trip"

A Christian rock musician who wanted to minister with his music was offered the opportunity to play his guitar to accompany singing for a weekly Bible Study group. Although he did it for a short while, he despised it and soon quit because it  wasn’t gratifying his ego. He never thereafter accomplished anything in ministry (or otherwise) with his music.  If he had accepted it with humility, as service to the Lord, the Lord would have blessed it and that would have opened other doors for him (See Luke 16:10). That is how the Lord does things. Remember, whatever you do, you must have the attitude of a servant. The men who received the "talents" were first and foremost, the master’s servants.

One of the big common errors of contemporary teaching is that results don’t count, especially quantitative results. You can’t support that idea from the Bible. Results certainly count in this Parable. There is a Greek word in I Corinthians 12:6, used in reference to doing ministry with spiritual gifts, that is translated "operations" (KJV) or "activities" (NKJV), both of which are poor translations. The word is energeia, from which we get the word "energy". As used in the Bible, it always means the action of supernatural power. More than that, it carries the implication of producing results. This is more clearly demonstrated in James 5:16, where a different form of the same basic word is translated "effective" (NKJV) in the statement: "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." The use of a real "talent" will produce results. Quality does count, of course, but what good is quality if there’s no quantity? In the Book of Acts, in several cases the Scripture contains numbers of the people who had been saved and had joined the Church. The 7th Chapter of Revelation talks about 12,000 from each tribe of Israel (which we understand to be spiritual Israel), and then about that "great multitude, which no man could number..." It certainly seems that numbers do matter in the Bible. So the popular idea that numbers don’t matter is a lie of the devil. To fully understand what kind of service the Lord is talking about, let us look at what the different service gifts of Ephesians 4:11 are. Bear in mind that they are for service, and that what the Lord is looking for in the terms of the Parable are results:

The Service Gifts

  1. Apostles: From a Greek word that means "one who is sent". There have been many attempts to define the ministry of the Apostle, some of which were clearly ignoring what is plainly shown in the Scriptures, and some of which were obviously intended to serve the doctrinal agendas of particular denominations. Some also have said that there are no apostles today. Actually, there are real apostles around today, and I’ve known a few. But we don’t call them apostles. We usually call them "missionaries" (though not all "missionaries" are true Apostles) or "Church planters". Basically, a true Apostle is a Christian who takes the Gospel where it has never been taken before and/or starts churches and ministries. The true Apostle is noted by the fact that he usually doesn’t stay around long after he gets a work started. Although there are exceptions, the Apostle usually gets things going well, and then hands the reins of leadership to other capable men and moves on. The ministry of the true Apostle is the one that is most likely to be accompanied by the frequent manifestation of sign gifts (Acts 2:43, etc.), but they will follow him. He won't follow them.

  2. Prophets: This is the most sensitive of ministries. The word "Prophet", can be defined as "one who speaks forth", i.e. he speaks for God to the Church. A prophet is as much a "forth-teller" as a "foreteller". It is true that in the Church today, there is no specific, identifiable paid ministry (at least in most Churches) that could be called that of the "Prophet". That, however, does not mean that there are no true prophets. However, as a general rule, you must be careful about who you accept as a prophet. Most of the people in the Churches who call themselves prophets, especially those who make a show of laying hands on people and "prophesying" over them, are not true prophets. Understand this: by Biblical tradition, what a true prophet says is not likely to be good news to those who hear it. Real prophets of God do not give "feel good" messages. A true prophet’s message is likely to be critical of the hearers, and/or is likely to contain dire warnings.  And this is the Biblical tradition! Like it or not! Just read the Book of Jeremiah! In the New Testament, look at Acts 11:27 & 28, and 21:10 & 11. Of course, the prophet’s bad news is usually tempered with promises of final blessing for the righteous. When a prophet speaks, listen!

  3. Evangelists: This is the easiest to define. An Evangelist is a person who has a gift for sharing the Good News and bringing the unsaved to Christ. He may also be good at reviving backslidden Christians. A person who has this gift and uses it may be anyone from somebody you never heard of to somebody like Billy Graham. The point is, that when he speaks, other people get saved. This is one of two service gifts that can, and frequently do, manifest themselves in new converts. Ironically, in modern Churches, a person may be licensed or ordained as an evangelist and not really have the gift at all. Yet a nobody who sits at the back of the Church on Sunday morning may have it for personal evangelism in a very powerful way. God can be very unpredictable about who He gives this gift to. Those I’ve known who really had the gift of evangelism included several weirdo Jesus Freaks, an ex-prostitute, and a very conservative (personality-wise) middle - aged man who made his living as a commercial artist. Unfortunately, modern Churches seldom really look for a person’s fruit in a Biblical way before they elect, license or ordain him to some official position. The Church would be in better shape if we did. By their fruit you shall know them!

  4. Pastors: This word is actually a synonym for "shepherds". The "pastor" is the man who has a gift for leading a Church. I would actually call it the most difficult of the gifts to have. And I mean to live with having it, and to use it. It is the one that contains the greatest requirements for service. The good pastor is above all else, the humblest of servants. He must not be on an ego trip. That’s why St. Paul told Timothy not to let a new convert be a bishop. See I Timothy 3:6. By the way, the office of the bishop, as in I Timothy 3:1-7 is actually the office of a pastor, made official, and especially a senior pastor who has other pastors serving under him. A good pastor will be a good preacher and teacher, and even better as a listener. He must also be a good counselor. He will be a natural leader and must have some talent as an administrator. And he will also need exceptional gifts of patience, wisdom and love. See I Timothy 3:1-7 for further qualifications. You’ll notice that a seminary degree isn’t among them. Again, a person doesn’t necessarily have to be ordained to have and use this gift. A Christian who has it will automatically acquire a "flock".

  5. Teachers: This is self explanatory, almost. The teacher needs knowledge, and the gift of being able to communicate it well. This requires accessory gifts of wisdom and understanding. He, too, must be a good listener. If he really has the gift, people will want to come and listen to him. Like the Pastor he will develop a following without trying. Again, this is something that a new convert should never be allowed to do. I don’t care how desperate a Church is for teachers. You are being seriously disobedient to God if you let a new convert teach. The teacher is in a position of having a tremendous responsibility before God, as he will have to answer for any errors that he teaches (See James 3:1). Any errors he teaches can do real damage in the lives of other Christians. Especially if he is teaching children or new converts. Therefore, he must be exceptionally steeped in the knowledge of the Word, and have a real "track record" of Christian living. A Church should chose with care who it allows to teach. As Paul also said, the pastors and teachers are the leaders who deserve the most respect (and pay?- see I Timothy 5:17)

  6. Helps (also called "deacons): This is the other gift that can manifest itself in a new convert. This one isn’t in Ephesians 4:11. Actually, we can find it in Romans 12:7, where it is translated "ministers", and in I Timothy 3:8-13. It is actually about plain, down-to-earth menial service. The kind that even Churches can’t do without. A person who has this gift has the knack - and the willingness - to just plug in anywhere and help out. He will usually be an exceptionally humble person. He (or, often, she) is the kind that just always seems to show up just when you need somebody. He or she is the ubiquitous volunteer. Bet you didn’t know that this type was mentioned in the Bible! As far as their importance to the Church is concerned, they are right up there with the five listed above.

If you know a Christian who is like that, respect him! You might find out some day that he was the best Christian you ever knew. That nobody that everyone in the Church really looks down on might get the Seal of the Living God, when even that wonderful pastor of yours that you loved so much doesn’t. As Jesus said, "The last will be first and the first will be last". Note also that the office of the deacon, as in I Timothy 3:8-13 was originally the office of the men with the gift of helps, made official. That is, they were men who were assigned specific menial tasks within the Church. This is not something to despise and look down on. See Acts 6:1-8. Stephen was one of the first deacons. This word comes from the Greek diakonoV, which means "servant". Literally. Not figuratively. By the way, the contemporary practice of deacons acting as a board of directors in the Church is not of God, but rather a tradition of man. The men and women who sit on those boards are often not deacons spiritually at all. Deacons should never have authority over a pastor. True deacons wouldn’t want to do this.

These, of course, aren’t all the service gifts. And even these can manifest themselves in different ways. Not everyone who has the gift of being a pastor is in the pulpit, any more than everyone who is in the pulpit has the gift. The same thing is true of evangelists and teachers. But if a person is following the Lord, and does have one or more service gifts, the fact will make itself known. What will, in the final analysis, be the proof of the gift is the results. If a person has been laboring at a particular ministry for some time, and has not produced any visible results, he probably does not have the related gift. The only exceptions are the prophet and the person with the gift of helps. If the person with the gift of helps is really helping, that is his fruit. For the true prophet, all he has to do is make his message heard. What follows from it is in the hands of the Lord.

Music As Ministry

One thing that is often misconstrued as a spiritual gift is an aptitude for music. As anyone should be able to see, it is an aptitude that can be used for anything, and is therefore not Biblically identifiable as a "talent". But there is Biblical validity for music as ministry. There was, in fact, a professional choir and orchestra in the Temple in the days of Solomon. The members were all priests, so music is a particularly priestly ministry. But there are also particular spiritual dangers with music. There is no other natural aptitude, except perhaps for acting, that makes a person so susceptible to the sin of pride. It is not easy for a person who has an aptitude for music to accept humble service, as shown in the case previously quoted. But he must be willing to do so!

One of the biggest mistakes being made in the Churches today may be emulating show business in the way music is used.

The same rules for who is allowed to be a Christian leader apply to people who do Christian music. Anyone who even sings in a choir or plays piano for the service should be a good Christian otherwise. There is a Church in Brooklyn - the only one I know of that does - that holds to this requirement for its choir members. It just happens to have the most successful and best known choir in the Greater New York area! So God blesses it! He always blesses obedience! Christian music glorifies the Lord, but the devil uses music as one of his most subtle yet powerful weapons - inside and outside the Church. Be careful!

The Need For Maturity

Remember this as a general principle: except for the gifts of evangelism and helps, serious service gifts won’t begin to make their presence known until you have been a Christian for several years. The idea of a person getting saved and then just jumping into some big ministry is usually not of God. A new convert will simply not know enough about the Bible, sound doctrine, and the Christian Faith generally. (This is one of the reasons why Christians shouldn’t look to celebrity converts for spiritual leadership.) A new convert thrust into a position of leadership will be vulnerable to all kinds of subtle temptations, doctrinal errors, and snares of the devil. This writer grew up in a parsonage, and the day he got saved he knew more about the Bible than some Christians ever know. But he had been saved nearly ten years when he first started teaching regularly. Aside from any use you may make of the two gifts mentioned above, evangelism and helps, you as a new Christian must accept that you probably have some growing to do before the Lord can use you in any big and serious way. Learn to practice the Three Switches and be a faithful member of your Church. Learn to be a servant. Wait on the Lord to show you what, if anything, special He wants you to do.

Physical Maturity May Be Required

There’s another point to this that some of my readers may find upsetting: You should have some physical maturity about you as well before you get into any serious ministry. There is a pattern in the Bible that implies that a person should be at least 30 years old before becoming a Christian leader. Priests in the Old Testament had to be 30 years old when they began their service. This idea has several other Biblical precedents as well. Joseph, son of Jacob, was 30 years old when he became "prime minister" of Egypt. David was 30 years old when he first became king. Finally, Jesus started His earthly ministry at age 30. 

A person of that age is likely to be more emotionally stable than a younger person, and will have begun to have the wisdom that really does come with age. One of the reasons why the Church is in the bad shape it is in is the practice of letting people pastor Churches when they are only in their early 20’s or even younger. Have you heard the old adage about "not sending a boy to do a man's work"? It applies here. Again, letting young people lead churches is contrary to Biblical precedent. This writer was 34 years old when he started teaching the Bible regularly.  You shouldn’t expect to manifest any of the more serious service gifts until you are at least in your late 20’s. If you get the call, that’s one thing. But there is a difference between being called and being sent. The desire to do a particular kind of ministry may be a call, but you aren’t sent until you actually are given opportunity to do it. Again the opportunity for ministry must be given to you. God does make exceptions to this, but, like the case of baptism, don’t expect Him to.

Be Careful About Being A Prophet!

Being a prophet is not an exception. Joseph, son of Jacob, of course, manifested a prophetic gift when he was only in his teens. But you’ll notice that what he did with it at the time got him in trouble! (See Genesis 37.) He didn’t do anything with it that helped anyone until he was in his late 20’s. He was thirty years old when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream. So  if you are a young person who thinks he’s a prophet: "Bite your tongue!" That is, keep your mouth shut until you are at least nearly thirty years old before you start doing any open prophesying. And then don’t insist that people take what you say as Gospel. The proof of your prophecy will be in what happens. Don’t expect God to bless you, or other people to thank you, for carelessly running your mouth! Also, if you think you are a prophet, don’t think you are a super saint and somehow above the law as a Christian because of it, like some would-be "prophets" I’ve known. As someone else has said, "God once spoke through a donkey, and He could speak through the dog next door if He should choose to". Every Christian is in a sense a prophet (Revelation 19:10), and God can speak through any Christian. But if God really is speaking through you, when the time comes for you to speak, you will not be able to keep silent. (See Jeremiah 20:9) If what you say is of God, it will come to pass no matter how it is received. Let that be the proof of your ministry, and that alone.

How Do You Know What Your "Talents" Are?

The Lord will, in most cases, start letting you know that you have a particular gift by giving you an interest in doing whatever. Again, you are warned against acting on any such interests you get as a new convert. At that age (spiritually) the devil may give you an interest in a particular ministry to lead you astray. One of the devil’s big snares for new converts is to fill their heads with foolish ideas about what great things they are going to do for the Lord. Then, when the great things don’t happen, they get discouraged and backslide. But if have been a Christian for a while, and an interest in a particular form of ministry begins to take hold of you, then act on it. If it requires training, go for it. If there is a need for divine providence involved, like obtaining money for school, whether or not the Lord provides it will be a sign of His will in the matter. And remember this, if God has called you to a ministry, He will give you opportunity to do it. Especially at the start of the actual work. As mentioned previously, you may be rebelling against God if you open a door for yourself. The Lord will open the doors for you if He wants you to do the ministry. Wait on Him, and if no doors open, forget it.

Finally, if the Lord is in it, that is, if you really have the gift, you will see fruit. As you do it, you will do a lot of growing in the Lord and a lot of learning yourself. That’s another measure of whether you are obeying the Lord in doing a ministry or not. If what you are doing is of God, doing it will bring you closer to Him. If it doesn’t, and especially if it actually takes you away from the Lord, you are acting in your own will, not His. If you are doing a real Christian ministry, if your are really using your "talents", it will help you to grow in the Lord and it will produce results in other people’s lives as well. Just remember this: If you do have a real "talent", a real service gift, you must develop it and use it for the Lord’s service. If you do you will be rewarded, and will have a good shot at being ready for the Tribulation. If you have a "talent" and you don’t use it, like the servant in the Parable, you may very well lose everything – eternally.

Commitment: A Major Requirement

One thing that is going to be required of you in your use of your "talents" is commitment. You are called to real, lasting commitment to whatever it is you are called to do. Commitment forces you to die to yourself. It forces you to take up your cross daily and follow Jesus. It may also force you to take risks, which is what the unfaithful servant was unwilling to do. It has been said that the unfaithful servant probably wouldn’t have been punished if he had invested the master’s money and lost it. It wasn’t the lack of profit (i.e. fruit) that was being punished so much as the lack of commitment. As stated, a prophet will not necessarily see any fruit, that is, any external results, from his ministry. But he too must be committed.

Actually, lack of commitment to obedience to Christ has been a problem since early in Church history. The moral and spiritual condition of our world is part of the results. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus told His followers to go and disciple all of the nations. He also said, in verse 18, that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to Him. This implies that the authority had been imputed to the Church, and we have the power to get the job done. The early Christians seemed to understand this. They took the Great Commission seriously. By the end of the 1st Century AD, Christianity had spread as far as Spain, Great Britain, and India. By the end of the Second Century, it had reached Japan, though it later died out there. But by the end of the 4th Century, the Church had lost most of its missionary zeal, and Christianity for the most part stopped spreading. Of course, during the last few centuries it has started spreading again, but with nowhere near the intensity and power that might have been. Today, we have the resources to take the Gospel to the whole world, and although we’re making some efforts, we’re not doing anything approaching what we could do if we were fully committed. Again, this failure is part of what will bring the Tribulation.

If the Born Again Christians of our day had the kind of unity and commitment that the Early Christians had, we could take over the world in a generation without a shot being fired. Even the Muslims would be converting to Christianity in large numbers. We would be able to dictate the actions of governments by the sheer weight of our votes. Even ungodly politicians would take a Christian line for the sake of staying in office. Ungodly entertainment would go out of business for lack of customers. We could bring down the Millennium without there having to be a Tribulation. It could still happen.  If it doesn't, the Tribulation will be what happens. But understand this: If we, as individuals or as congregations want to be ready for the Tribulation, then we must make the kind of commitment to the Lord that the Apostles and the Early Church Fathers made, and we must turn our backs completely on the world.

Last but not least, remember these things: To be ready for the Great Tribulation, you must commit yourself to faithfully using your true "Talents". And, again, using your "Talents", above all, will require you to truly be... 

A Servant!!!

There is one more Parable that we must examine, and a question that must be posed and answered: If we are servants, who do we serve? We will answer that question in the following page;

The Parable of the Sheep and The Goats

Strangers and Pilgrims Home The Wise and Foolish Virgins
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Contact Author, William D. Brehm