Monthly Archives: August 2015

Audio of Today’s Sermon on Psalm 23

Click the link to listen to this Sunday’s message on Psalm 23. Yesterday’s blog post dealt with the same Psalm.

http://patchingcracks.sermon.net/main/main/20478328

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Arthur Pink on Manhood and Jesus

Arthur Pink on Manhood and Jesus from his book "the Nature of God"

Arthur Pink on Manhood and Jesus from his book “the Nature of God”

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Reflections on Psalm 23: Finding Peace on the Road

IMG_7473As a dad, sometimes I feel like a shepherd with a herd of cats. My kids wander and stray constantly. I follow on their heels, catching them before they fall and kissing scarred knees. Sometimes, I don’t think they know that I’m watching them all the time. They try to get away with things as though I cannot see their mischief. They get scared, not realizing that I am nearby making sure they don’t get into too much trouble. That’s my job as their dad. When they’re hungry, I make sandwiches. When they’re thirsty, I pour apple juice. I play with them and cuddle with them. I see these things as part of being a good dad and part of loving my children. This image repeatedly came to mind as I studied Psalm 23 in preparation for this Sunday’s message. I wanted to write some of my reflections on the song before preaching on it. This post will be a little long, but there’s good stuff in this passage.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
The idea of God as a shepherd is not unusual in the Old Testament, and it shouldn’t come as any surprise. The Israelites were a sheep-herding people, so this image would have been familiar and powerful. What is unusual about its use here is that David refers to God as HIS shepherd. Most uses of the analogy refer to God as the shepherd of the nation of Israel. David’s use here is personal. Beyond that, he describes God as giving him all that he needs. This is fleshed out as we proceed into the later verses. There’s another important idea to take away from this verse. Jesus repeatedly refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd. His sheep know His voice. He lays His life down for His flock. These are central to the identity of Christ in relation to His people. It’s important, as we look at this passage, that we consider it in light of who Jesus is and how He deals with us as believers.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 
David attributes all of his met needs with God’s provision and care. This passage identifies a handful of those needs, including rest (lie down), food (green pastures, the Hebrew here literally refers to freshly sprouted fields, a delicacy for sheep), refreshments (water), and leadership/direction (leads me beside). God provides, but there is some responsibility for the sheep. In the passage, God makes him lay down and leads him beside still waters. Both of these require submission. For starters, sheep are led by their shepherd, which requires that they follow. Sheep are notoriously dumb and have a tendency to wander into trouble. These provisions are associated with a willingness to lay down and rest when we are told, as well as follow when He leads. In light of Jesus’ life, we find even more depth in this expression. Jesus declares at various times that He will provide: rest for the weary, food in the form of His flesh, refreshment in the form of living water (those who drink it never thirst again), and a leader (follow me). It’s easy to assume that God’s provisions for us should be in the form of meeting our physical needs, but to His followers Jesus is the source of our rest from guilt, shame, and fear. He fills us with Himself, satisfying our longings and needs. He refreshes us when our souls are parched and we need hope. Finally, he shows us how to live in harmony with God.
He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 
The phrase restores my soul literally refers to God setting David back to the way he was meant to be. God repairs our full selves to their original state. Jesus does this by forgiving our sins, then sanctifying us through a lifetime of us growing to be like Him. We are restored, not physically from illness (though that does happen sometimes), but rather, we are reconciled to God and taught how to live holy lives, love Him and our neighbors. His leadership provides this as he leads us in paths of righteousness.Righteousness literally refers to being in right relationship with God. As we follow Christ, we are led closer and closer to God.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 
This is one of the verses most folks recognize easily from the psalm, but it is often taken divorced from the preceding verse. If God leads us in paths of righteousness, then He’s in the lead when we enter the dark valley. Contrary to the promises of charlatan preachers, who claim that faith will ensure us easy travels and wealth, following Jesus will sometimes bring us through some dark and difficult places. We aren’t promised easy sailing or calm seas. Rather, we are promised that He will meet our needs and that we need not fear evil because we know He is with us. After all, we follow Him there. For followers of Jesus, the darkness of death has no real power. We face it knowing that Jesus took the sting of death upon Himself at the cross. Further, He proves that there will be a resurrection. Death is not the end of the road for any of us. It is no more dangerous to us than shadows we encounter. It may be scary, as darkness often is. However, we have a reassurance that He is nearby, even if we cannot see Him easily because darkness Hides him from our sight. The means of God’s protection is clear when we look at the source of comfort. The Good Shepherd’s rod and His staff are a source of comfort. Shepherds carried a large club (rod) for fighting off wild animals that might eat the sheep. They carried staffs with large hooks on the end for steering the sheep away from danger. The hook would fit around the sheep’s neck and pull them away from peril. This is the case with Jesus, who defends us and protects us. We may encounter hurt or even physical death in this life, but in Jesus, we know that God comforts, avenges, and that eternal life is assured. It’s a little like my daughter having a scary dream in the dark of night. The darkness of her room and the scary pictures in her head may make her miserable for a moment, but if she cries out, she knows her daddy is in the next room keeping watch over her and ready to comfort her. In the darkest times, we find comfort in the knowledge that Jesus has won the victory for us, He watches us, and His rod and staff are there defending/protecting us.
This verse reminds me of a quote from Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Stopping and staying in hell never makes sense. Making camp in the valley of the shadow of death may be necessary, but don’t pick out curtains. Instead, follow the Leader. He doesn’t leave us in fear and darkness. We must know His voice and follow Him, sometimes by ear and faith instead of by sight. If we do so, we are assured that the valley isn’t our home. He will lead us to the other side.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
In times of hardship and fear, it’s easy to turn to our own refreshments, rest, and nourishments in order to find escape. However, instead of real refreshment, nourishment, rest, and leadership, we find counterfeits. Alcohol and energy drinks may scratch our itch for refreshment and rest, but in the aftermath of these escapes, we find ourselves more thirst and tired than before. Television, food, sex money, and possessions are all escapes folks run to when they find themselves surrounded by enemies and passing through the shadows. Sadly, these are not real comforts or nourishments. Rather, they are illusions. We’re still in the valley and surrounded by enemies, we just try to pretend that we’re not surrounded by danger. In contrast, God provides us a feast in/with/through His Son, even when we find ourselves in dark/desperate circumstances. Further, He anoints our head with oil, which refers to joy, not to be confused with happiness. Joy is an abiding sense of peace and assurance. It is similar to happiness, but is deeper and coexists with sorrow. Joy exceeds our circumstances. Our cup overflows when God provides for our needs in abundance, which He does in Christ. We are given rest for our souls and water that’ll satisfy our thirst forever.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
The psalm ends with a restatement of the obvious. God’s goodness and His mercy will follow us for life. We cannot outrun God’s love for us. Even when we stray, the good shepherd will leave the 99 sheep to find us and bring us home. David, the fellow who wrote this song, wrote elsewhere that even if he made his bed in hell, God would come for him. In our darkest hours, in our moments of excruciating pain, in the times when we desperately need hope, and in the mornings when we wake up realizing that we’ve wandered away from our homes; in those times, our Good Shepherd is right there, ready to scoop us up and restore our souls.
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Falling “Christian” Stars: Josh Duggar and the Cult of Christian Celebrity

IMG_7424With the recent release of hacker data stolen from Ashley Madison, a dating service for married people seeking to have an affair, and the revelations that followed; various tendencies in Christians’ responses have, yet again, sprung forth. Every time a minister or other prominent Christian is caught in some sort of malfeasance, certain responses are predictable. Perhaps the most troubling to me is the tendency to minimize or ignore sin. Jesus and the rest of the Bible tend to treat sin seriously. This is even the case for the “good guys” in the Bible. David, a man after God’s own heart, took it on the chin for his adultery and murder. Peter was called “Satan” in the rebuke of Jesus when he spoke out of his own interests. Paul repeatedly bemoans his own sin, calling himself the least of the disciples and repeatedly referring to his persecution of the church decades after it happened.
In broaching this topic, it’s important to acknowledge a hard truth in our culture: Western civilization likes to idolize people. Politicians, musicians, actors, directors, writers, activists, preachers, teachers, and whatever the Kardashians are (That last one didn’t trigger my spell checker… just take a moment to let that sink in!). We tend to look to these folks as infallible heroes. The problem that comes with trying to make anyone into a messiah is that they can’t save us, and they’re only human. There shouldn’t be any such thing as a celebrity Christian. This is not to say that folks of faith shouldn’t be in the public square and that we shouldn’t support them. Rather, we need to recognize that these folks are not God and shouldn’t be idolized. They’re fellow servants of our Master. When we worship anyone or anything that isn’t Jesus, we commit idolatry.
Some folks might object to my characterization of idolizing celebrities. To those folks I’d say: If you’ve spent more money on, quoted more, given more attention to, obeyed more faithfully,  talked about more often, or pointed others toward anyone or anything more than Jesus, it is an idol. I see this especially with celebrity pastors. For example, lots of folks quote one best selling mega-church pastor or another more often than he or they actually quote scripture. Worse still, it’s seldom acknowledge that many of them are preaching things that aren’t in harmony with the gospel. Rather, fans tend to treat their teachings as though they are the gospel themselves. We are often slow to compare sermons and books to the Bible ourselves because the light of truth exposes falsehoods.
There’s a handful of reasons that it’s easy to latch on to idols. For starters, we are fallen creatures. We rebel against God by nature. Worshipping an idol is a matter of the sinful heart, which will always tend to love the creation more than the Creator. Further, our culture is geared toward this sort of idolizing of men. It’s on our TVs, magazines, books, billboards, conversations around the water cooler, etc. It’s just there and it’s easy to fall in line with it.
The problem that will typically arise with idolizing men is what we see happening to Josh Duggar and have seen with countless folks before him. They turn out to not be God, and as a result, they will stumble or fail to be everything that God is. We will eventually wind up defending, ignoring, minimizing, whitewashing, or pointing fingers at the sins of others all in an effort to draw attention away from the reality that the thing/person we idolize isn’t sufficient to save or worthy of praise. Otherwise, we are forced to disown and destroy our idol. In short, we shoot our wounded. We’ve seen these reactions in the folks who tried to defend Duggar or ignore his failings, as well as those who tossed him under the bus when it turned out that he’s a sinner, too.
The solution is for believers to come to a point that we recognize that God is deserving of our worship and adoration in a way that no one else is. We must remind ourselves of this daily. When His people who live in the spotlight of public scrutiny fall short, we need to acknowledge sin for what it is and point to Christ. Further, we need to hold ourselves and each other to a higher standard than we hold the world.
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What Does It Mean to Be A Real Man?

IMG_7389“Next week, if you guys would like, we will start a teaching series on ‘what does it mean to be a man?’” I was pretty surprised by the response this statement garnered amongst the young men in the room. I was teaching Bible to a group of clients at a drug treatment program. The boys were largely placed by the local jail, most were from bad neighborhoods and broken homes. There were lots of kids with gang affiliations and long criminal histories. The biggest challenge in teaching them anything was finding things they would engage with at all. In this case, the young men who were present responded enthusiastically. Many of them approached me later, individually, to express their excitement about learning how to be a real man. I was initially perplexed by the response, largely because the young men routinely and loudly proclaimed their manliness. It was common to hear them yell and carry on about how tough they were. I often joked that it was like watching an episode of wild kingdom, with the young male lions strutting and posing in an effort to intimidate each other. The crazy secret behind the whole display was that most of the young men had no idea at all about what it meant to be a real man. They just figured that if they faked it loudly enough everyone would buy their act. Boys learn how to be men by watching their dads. This is the way God designed the world. If fathers are flawed, their children learn to be flawed men. This is one of the reasons why alcoholic men tend to raise alcoholic men and why the Bible says that sons are punished for their father’s sins for generations to follow. In the case of the boys in the program, because none of them had a dad to watch and emulate, they were left with what they could piece together from pop culture and their peers. The challenge with that is that boys compete with each other naturally. This meant that the fatherless boys tried to be men by being tougher than the other guy. The end result was emptiness. If a man tries to find his manhood in violence, sex, work, wealth, or anything else in the world that is temporary and fleeting, they will simply end up emptier. Solomon said that wealth, sex, work, and everything else is just a vapor. It passes and disappears as though it was never there in the first place.

atlasThe topic of manhood is complicated and will take more than one post to properly explore. In the short term, it’s important to establish a basic concept of manhood from which to work. I’d suggest that the place to start is with the source of manhood identity that is built into our world: Boys learn to be men by watching their fathers. This is because parents stand in God’s place in the lives of their children for the first several years of their lives. They provide life, food, shelter, moral guidance, correction, etc. Children’s conception of God is often shaped by their perception of their dads. Genesis tells us that when God created man, He created them in His own image. Fathers (and all men for that matter) are supposed to be copies of God in many respects. We are to share His heart, passions, loves, understanding of family, and work. When dads fail to model this lifestyle and teach their boys to do the same, they create problems. Fortunately, God provides us a more clarified example of manhood in the person of Jesus, who is God made flesh. A boy without a good fatherly model to follow can see ideal manhood in Jesus. When we choose to follow Jesus, our job is to learn to be like him through a lifetime of training, which is discipleship. This is why Christ’s self-sacrificing love and attitude of humble service is the example for husbands. He demonstrates the ideal manner of intimate relationship through his relationship with the church.

overly-manly-man-ansd-steakIt’s easy to picture Jesus as a pollyanna-type figure or as the feathered haired guy in a bathrobe that we all encountered on flannel graphs in Sunday School as kids. Fortunately, the tame version of the Son of God is far from accurate. C.S. Lewis captured Jesus’ identity best when he wrote: “He’s not safe! But, he’s good.” Jesus’ integrity, passion, penchant for action, grace, wisdom, willingness to speak openly (even offensively if necessary), self-sacrificing service, and lifetime focus on making the world better are just a few of the qualities that make Jesus is the ideal standard of manhood. He is the ideal mold from which men were meant to be cast. It is from Him that we learn how God desires us to be. Once we know, our job is to enter training to become like him.

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W. Frank Scott on Jesus in Marriage

This is a longer quote from Scott’s preaching commentary on the gospel of John. There’s enough good stuff here that it’s worth doing the whole quote… though you don’t get the fortune cookie effect that comes with a shorter quote. inviting Jesus to the wedding

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Josh Duggar, Hidden Sin, and Why Christian Men Fall

IMG_7337This week’s news has been dominated by the story of the Ashley Madison data dump. Hackers, who had stolen the account information of users of the Ashley Madison adultery dating service, released the information of hundreds of thousands of men and women who had signed up to find someone to cheat on their spouse with. The first name to pop up in the headlines was that of recently scandalized Christian marriage/morality crusader and former reality TV star, Josh Duggar. Social media, news outlets, and tabloid websites jumped at the opportunity to denounce the hypocritical actions of Duggar. In the last week, I’ve seen folks claim that all Christians are hypocrites, that Christians are the source of most social ills, that this is further proof that Christianity is a scam, folks have dismiss Duggar as a pervert, and all sorts of other vitriol. Folks who’d previously defended Duggar are conspicuously silent, many not knowing what to say after defending the man in past months. I believe that many Christians reach a point where they expect men to be sinless, instead of knowing that men can easily fall. We need to remember that Jesus is Jesus and we are not. No one is-except Jesus. I’m not trying to excuse the guy’s sins or dismiss him. Frankly, it’s not my job to deal with him. I’m neither his pastor nor his family. It’s unlikely he’ll ever read this. I will say that we need to acknowledge the seriousness of sin and judge ourselves by a higher standard than the world. We can’t wag a moralizing finger at the lost while whitewashing and excusing our own sins. It’s not right. Instead, we should take the opportunity to properly explain repentance and grace. More on that in a future post.

Personally, I’ve been watching the whole thing and feeling sorry for the man’s wife and kids, who will bear the public shame and humiliation of Josh’s actions. In addition, I’ve found myself thinking about how this happens. Whether or not ministers are statistically more likely to get caught cheating, it’s certainly news when it happens. As a guy who works in ministry, I pay attention whenever I hear about it because I’m genuinely bothered by it. For starters, it reflects badly on Jesus and His church. It also raises the specter of potential in my mind. Men that I like and respect have had these sorts of moral failings, so it follows that it could happen to me as well. I’ll admit that I’m very aware of the potential. I don’t think any of these guys planned to cheat on their wives or that they lived their whole lives as con artists, faking their faith in order to trap a wife and get a low paying pastor job. (Though, oddly enough I had a stranger accuse me of that once.) Rather, through observation, I’ve collected some common traits that make it easier for Christian men to fail morally.

  1. A sense of infallibility: I once interviewed at a church where the previous pastor had left when he ran off with a Sunday School teacher he had been cheating on his wife with. One thing that I learned about him during my visit was that he frequently spoke in sermons about being sinless. He literally claimed that he no longer committed sins. The problem with this mindset is that at the point where he began to experience temptation to commit adultery, whether he wanted to confess it or not, he couldn’t without acknowledging that he was, in fact, a sinner. I’ve talked to ministers who suffer with guilt and shame, wishing they could seek help, but feeling trapped because of their sense that they can never acknowledge any of their sins to anyone else. If a man gets trapped in a pattern of sin, one that he cannot deal with through confession and discipleship, it will generally get worse and worse until it’s exposed. I would argue that this is a result of a…
  2. Poor understanding of our need for Jesus: Jesus died for my sins and the sins of all people because we couldn’t live perfectly ourselves. When I sin, I confess it and turn in a different direction. God didn’t pick me because I’m awesome, or good, or smart, or anything else. I belong to Jesus because he recognized my wretchedness and saved me from it. He did this specifically so he could be glorified because of His tremendous grace and mercy. When I forget that I am a wretched man or try to depict something otherwise to the world, I forget or fail to understand my need for Jesus. That need should dominate my decisions and relationships. My preaching and teaching should openly acknowledge my wretchedness and need for Jesus. If I publicly acknowledge my sinfulness regularly, then I don’t need to hide it. From all appearances, Duggar was struggling with sexual sin from a fairly early age. He didn’t seek help in overcoming it, likely because of the shame associated with sins of that nature and because folks assume that we should instantly defeat temptation and be done. Proper emphasis of our need for Jesus and the folly of self righteousness would have created an environment where confession would have been easier. Freedom to speak about it keeps me from falling victim to…
  3. Weak accountability: Men who operate in a vacuum, with no oversight, can easily fall into sinful patterns because no one is watching. He begins to develop the sense that no one will ever catch him. Accountability, in the form of oversight from others and regular meetings, where the man is free to speak openly about his struggles, is vital to preserving morality. In particular, men need to be held accountable when they have…
  4. A marriage that isn’t top priority: It’s easy for marriage to fall lower on the priority list, behind work, children, image, success, etc. The only thing that ought to rank higher is my commitment to follow Jesus, which in turn governs my relationship with my wife. Specifically, husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. When spouses fail to meet each others emotional needs, affairs become more likely. Imitating Christ in marriage means serving each other mutually, caring for each others needs. Willard Harley wrote 2 excellent books on the topic, Love Busters and His Needs, Her Needs. I’d highly recommend them both to any married couple. Disclaimer: This isn’t to blame the situation on wives. Each man’s sin is his own. It’s rather to point to a real factor that leads to affairs and offer a tool to ensure it never happens.
  5. Radical Honesty: There are several people in my life, including my wife, several pastors, and a few other men, with whom I practice radical honesty. I tell them every rotten thing I think or do. Sin grows in the dark. The more I hide, the more likely I am to fall into sin. Maintaining several relationships of radical honesty is vital to safeguarding integrity.
  6. Maintaining Good Boundaries: If I were a sleepwalker, I wouldn’t ever go camping at the top of the Grand Canyon. I’d be afraid of walking off a cliff while sleeping. I’m not a sleepwalker, but I am a sinner. I sometimes do sinful things in moments of colossal moral sleepwalking. Because of this, I do not do counseling with women in places where I cannot be interrupted. I don’t spend lots of time alone with women who aren’t my wife. I maintain strict rules about where I go and with whom. This keeps me from moments of stupidity.
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Alcoholics Anonymous and Discipleship

Alcoholics Anonymous and DiscipleshipThrough my work as a chaplain and as an addiction counselor, I’ve learned a great deal about and from Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s often said that AA is simple: Go to meetings, find a sponsor, and work the 12 Steps. The challenge that many folks face when they start going to AA meetings is that they don’t want to get a sponsor or work the steps. Alcoholics often struggle with interpersonal relationships and authority, which makes finding someone to have an honest relationship of accountability with daunting. It’s not uncommon for alcoholics to try to go it alone for long periods of time without ever reading the AA Big Book or working the steps before finally breaking down and finding a sponsor. The most common reason alcoholics eventually enter a relationship with a sponsor and work the steps is that they recognize that their drinking and destructive patterns will destroy everything in their lives if they don’t overcome it. Desperation to escape slow death at their own hands drives them to reach out to another recovering alcoholic to get help in achieving lasting sobriety. Working with someone else, who has overcome similar struggles, works. They understand each other based on shared experience and are able to point each other toward spiritual growth, which is the most important component of the AA approach to recovery.

As a pastor, I’ve long been aware of the Biblical roots of the AA approach to recovery. The alcoholic acknowledges that they can no longer control their lives, turn control of their lives over to God (who is more powerful and able to control their lives), they then confess their past moral failings and seek to make amends with those they’ve wronged. This is essentially the Biblical path to salvation: acknowledge that we are sinners, turn our lives over to Jesus, confess our sins after a fearless moral inventory, then do our best to make it right, while continually striving to overcome our sins. Sponsorship is discipleship. Discipleship is when a believer finds someone- a more mature believer to help them train, grow spiritually, and overcome sin in their efforts to be imitate Jesus. The unfortunate reality is that despite the fact that AA sponsorship is an imitation of Christian discipleship, it is far more common in AA groups that discipleship is in churches. Christians just don’t look for relationships of accountability and spiritual training in an effort to grow in Christ and overcome sin. The desire to overcome moral failings isn’t present in churches in the same way that it is present in AA. This is despite the fact that discipleship is the basic method of spiritual growth and training presented in the Bible. It is how Jesus grew believers and how the church grew disciples for centuries.

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Click to Read Previous PatchingCracks Post: Skipping Workouts and Discipleship Training

I’d suggest that the reason for the lack of discipleship in the modern western church is simple: we aren’t overly concerned with overcoming sin, growing in holiness, or imitating Christ. It’s important to enough to many believers that they might read a few books a year and attend church to listen to sermons, but this is often seen as “good enough.” Serious training to grow spiritually just isn’t often yearned after amongst believers. This is the same reason that there are around 4.4 Bibles for every household in the U.S., but only around 26% of the folks who own Bibles and identify them as important, read them. The folks working the steps in Alcoholics Anonymous see their addiction as a death sentence, so they find folks to disciple them in their spiritual growth as a means of escape. It is far too common for Christians to see overcoming their sins as an optional add-on to the faith or something they ought to do in the same sense as they ought to floss and lose weight. They do not see sin as a road to death or as utterly offensive to God. This general disinterest with overcoming sin is reflected in the literature the church consumes en masse, which tends to focus on how to be happier or more wealthy. Books dealing with imitating Jesus and obeying his commands are far less common and seldom approach the Christian best sellers list. It is often the case that when we preach/write about sin, it is focused on “wicked” groups outside of the body of Christ, rather than on our own failings. The church is content to point to the sawdust in the eyes of others, while ignoring the log obscuring our vision. We are pleased with Jesus as Savior, but uninterested in Him as Lord. Until following Jesus becomes the burning desire and priority in our lives, the church will continue to neglect discipleship. We must learn to detest our own sins and see overcoming them as escaping from death.

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