I am the vine, you are the branches. In me you will bear much fruit, but you can do nothing apart from me. John 15:5

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Pursuing God

Dean Landers

In the earliest church, depicted in the book of Acts, I have noted 5 things that were common amongst these believers.

1. Pursue God by reading His word and talking to Him in prayer

2. Stand in fear (or “phobos”), total awe and reverence of and devotion to the Lord

3. Receive the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding

4. Enjoy the blessing and encouragement of the Holy Spirit

5. Experience salvation in the lives of others and watch the church grow

Today we will begin to examine each of these. Let’s begin with how we pursue God.
Ps 119:11 – 16 says “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to Your word. I seek You with all my heart; do not let me stray from Your commands. I have hidden Your word in my heart so that I might not sin against You. Praise be to You O Lord; teach me Your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from Your mouth. I rejoice in Your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on Your precepts and consider Your ways. I delight in Your decrees; I will not neglect Your word. ”

The Word of Christ is our protection. It is our defense against the onslaught from our own sin nature and Satan drawing us away from Truth, inviting us to make our own way in the world, losing sight of the One who made us. God’s Word is our guide. God in His outrageous love for us, gave us His spoken Word in the life and death of His Son Jesus to direct our every thought, word, and choice. Heb 4:12-13 says: “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

God’s word, unlike anything else in this world is able to unearth our hidden desires, thoughts, and sin, bringing us face to face with the reality of the sovereign and holy God. God’s Word never returns void. It produces real change in the lives of all who submit themselves to Gods truth revealed there.

Jeremiah 23:29 ” Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in
pieces?”

Humility and repentance before the Lord lead to obedience and dependence on the Lord. As God’s word reveals the depth of deceit and blackness of our hearts we are struck to the core. Our Spirit led response is to cry out to God and ask for His forgiveness and restoration, His protection and guidance. Our thankful response is instructive not only to our own lives but to all the saints in the church.

With confidence we can come before the throne of our Maker and express our deepest fears, concerns,
needs, and desires. And He hears us! In fact He already knows what we need before we utter a word
(Mt 6:8). Even when we are unable to adequately or even accurately convey our thoughts, the Holy
Spirit AND Christ Jesus are doing so on our behalf (Rom 8:26, 27,34)! He gives us the desires of our heart when we delight ourselves in Him (PS 37:4). Our only requirement is to speak with Him. We have to be
in relationship with His Son Jesus, because He alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through the Son (JN 14:6).

Steep yourself in the words of life given us by God and His Son Jesus. With thankfulness in our hearts make your petitions known to Him who is able to give us all we could ever ask or imagine. To Him be all the glory and honor. Amen!

Living Like the Early Church

Dean Landers

Within a few months to years after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, the church grew from 120 disciples to thousands of believers. The book of Acts records this growth, but the author Luke, is also careful to describe who these people were, what they spent their time doing, and provided a picture of the priorities in their hearts. As I prepared to preach on Acts 9, I found myself overwhelmed by the insight that verse 31 provides us. When I think about an example to follow, the first church is definitely on the list. But don’t think that they are doing something altogether different than what Jesus did. In fact, I’m sure you’ll find, like I did, great similarity between this early church, the 12 disciples, Jesus himself, and the faithful Christians who have followed God in the past 2000 years of church history. I pray that you would be reminded that this is not a checklist of things do to in your own strength. Even the motivation to begin to accomplish these things does not reside within you. Rather, the life of a Christian begins outside of himself, in the movement of God. And God provides the strength and desire to follow Him. Join me as, we seek to join these first Christians in the life God has created for us to live.

Acts 9:31 – 43

v. 31 “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” This verse has major implications for us today. It is telltale in not just what the church was experiencing but also why they were experiencing it!  The church was experiencing peace, encouragement & training, fear, and evangelism.

Then look at what happened:

Acts 9: 32 – 35

32 Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. 34 And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. 35 And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.

Consider the impact of this miracle: ALL those living in both Sharon and Lydda turned to the Lord simply by seeing Aeneas up and moving!  These passages reveal Peter doing what he and the rest of the apostles had watched Jesus do and had been doing themselves since Jesus’ ascension. They are performing miracles and wonders in the name of Jesus! Lk 13:10 – 13 Jesus heals a crippled woman who had spent 18 years in that condition. Mt 9:1-8 tells the story of Jesus healing the paralytic. These are the same things we see Peter doing here in Acts 9! Look at the people’s response in Mt 9: 8. It provides a deeper level of explanation for how and why the believers were experiencing peace, encouragement, training, awe, and people coming to faith. “When the crowds saw it (the miracle), they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.”

Their response was to glorify God! That is to honor, magnify, praise, extol, and celebrate the King of kings!

This is the same thing that is going on with the believers in Acts! The church is in holy awe of God, expressing a deeper and deeper reverence for the Lord and the things He has been doing in and among them. They are loving one another in ways that had never been seen before. The peace of Christ was with them because of their receptivity to the Holy Spirit and God’s movement within each of them.

Are you and I doing these things?

This miracle done through Peter was not isolated from the church. It was brought about through the effectiveness of the church pursuing Christ! Being fiercely united! That word united, in the original language of greek is: homothymadon.  It is not a dinosaur. It means being of one accord, one mind, one passion. And that central passion was: Jesus Christ

In Acts 9:36 – 43, Peter raises a woman named Dorcas back to life.

What did Peter do in raising Dorcas? The same thing he witnessed Jesus do to Lazarus in John 11, the ruler Jairus’s daughter in MT 9:23 – 26, and the widow’s son in Lk 7:11-16. Peter prayed over Dorcas body and then called her to rise, and presented her to the saints and the widows alive! The impact of Dorcas being raised from the dead became known throughout all of Joppa and many believed in the Lord.

Do you see the pattern ?

1. Pursue God by reading His word and talking to Him in prayer!

2. Stand in fear (or “Phobos”), total awe and reverence of and devotion to the Lord!

3. Receive the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding!

4. Enjoy the blessing and encouragement of the Holy Spirit!

5. Experience salvation in the lives of others and watch the church grow!

In the next few weeks, I will be expanding how the scripture teaches us to do this. May the Lord bring us to joyful obedience and grow His church.

This God is not mundane

In every second of life God is doing a million amazing things that, when thought about, should make our jaw drop. Stars still hang in the sky, romance with my wife is still wonderful, ants still march in lines and fish still swim on the bottom of the ocean with light bulbs hanging off their heads (technically these are called Angler Fish but that ruins the fun). If life is boring it is because we aren’t paying attention to all that God is doing.

These two quotes from Chesterton help me to pay attention.

It is one thing to describe an interview with a gorgon or a griffin, a creature who does not exist. It is another thing to discover that the rhinoceros does exist and then take pleasure in the fact that he looks as if he didn’t. One searches for truth, but it may be that one pursues instinctively the more extraordinary truths.

When I’m daydreaming I can drift into thoughts of living in Narnia. Wouldn’t it be fun to meet Mr. Tumnus? But then I come back to reality and realize I have something better than meeting Mr. Tumnus. God has made a rhino instead. Lewis had to borrow from God’s imagination to come up with his creatures. God invented real creatures without borrowing from anyone.

And here is the other quote from Chesterton:

It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.

This gets me every time. I have 3 kids and I honestly wish I could be more like them. Kids notice simple things and simple things make them incredibly excited. The older I get the less excited I get and I hate that part of me. Lord, keep me from being a boring grown-up. How I long for heaven when I’ll be childish in all the right ways and I’ll sit and stare at the sun in wonderful amazement knowing that God speaks a happy command and the sun hangs in the sky.

See Worldly Enjoyment as a Category for Greater Enjoyment in God

I often tell my friends that Reformed theology has caused me to love to eat. They usually think I’m joking but I’m not. In fact, Reformed theology has not just increased my love for food but also for sports, sex, friendship, nature and a hundred others things. What Reformed theology does is help us to see the world as God’s wonderful gift to draw us to him. Using the language of Colossians 2:16 every part of this world is a shadow that is intended to draw us to the substance of Christ. The command then is that we maximize the shadows so that we would feel the substance even more.

If you eat food and are bored by it then you will see God as boring. When I eat I try and pay attention to each specific flavor on my tongue because the more I eat and enjoy that taste the more I will long for God. If shrimp and grits taste this good in a fallen world then I can’t believe how good it’s going to be to live in an eternal covenantal relationship with the God who imagined and created the taste of shrimp and grits! It is clearly a sin to worship the worldly gifts of God, but is also a sin to not enjoy what God has given as a way of longing for him more.

God does not intend boring lives for us. Atheists live in the gray because the end of their lives is nothing but for us we live in color because God is sovereign and happy. He is working millions of amazing miracles each second, the greatest of them being I’m still a Christian. Lord, keep me from the sin of boredom with you.

HT: Jon Saunders

7.22.12 Vine Gathering

After the great persecution began to arise against the church, the gospel began to go out from Jerusalem. That very act to suppress the Christian message of Christ, caused it’s growth. This Sunday we will look at the gospel going to the nearby Samaritans in Acts 8:4-25.

It is one of our goals, to select music to accompany the text we study. This creates a way for the gathered church, to reflect our unity, by singing the truths, promises, and commands of scripture to one another. God Bless.

Who is this Jesus?

In Mark 5, Jesus encounters a demon possessed man, named Legion, and through his interaction, displays His authority. First, he shows his authority over the demonic realm, who pleads for Christ not to destroy them. Secondly, he exerts his authority over the local economy and culture of that town by sending the demons into a flock of pigs, 2,000 strong, that then proceed to run into a lake and drown. Needless to say, the townspeople respond by asking him to leave.

Jesus Christ is the most dynamic and intriguing figure of all history. He is also the most powerful and life-altering as well. Do we know who is it that we have begun to follow? Do we know who it is that we pray to share with the world around us? He has authority to forgive, cleanse, and purge out our and their sin. And He also has claim to turn our lives upside down in a way to turns us to live as he has designed – dependent and fully alive in Him.

What a God.

Suffering – Part 4

Learning to Suffer Well: Hoping in God’s Character

by Mike Riccardi

Over the past few weeks, we have been taking a look at how Jeremiah responded to Judah’s suffering at the time of the Babylonian exile, with the goal of learning lessons on how the believer can respond to suffering righteously. We’ve seen that Jeremiah weeps with those who weep, that he acknowledges the role of sin in suffering, that he trusts in God’s absolute sovereignty, and yet never finds fault with God but recognizes the proper enemy. Today we come to the final, and perhaps the most important, lesson that Jeremiah teaches us on suffering well. In the midst of his intense suffering and deep anguish, Jeremiah does not mourn as one who has no hope (1Th 4:13). Rather, he sets his hope entirely on, and rests in, the character of God. He hopes in the restoration of God’s people according to His character and His covenant.

Structured Sorrow

Probably the most intriguing fact about the Book of Lamentations is that the book with the most transparent suffering is the book with the most deliberate, symmetrical structure in the entire Bible.

  • In chapters 1 and 2, even in the original Hebrew, there are 22 verses that are composed of 3 lines in each verse, for a total of 66 lines in each of the first two chapters. On top of that, it’s an acrostic poem: each verse begins with the successive letter in the Hebrew alphabet.
  • In chapter 3, there are 66 verses of one line each, again totaling 66 lines in the chapter. And again, each cluster of three verses begins with successive letters in the alphabet. (So, verses 1–3 start with aleph, 4–6 with beth, and so on.)
  • Chapter 4 has 22 verses composed of two lines each, and chapter 5 has 22 verses with one line each.

So what does that have to do with anything, you ask? Well, this unmistakable amount of structure gives form and shape to Jeremiah’s mourning. There has been broad devastation, and Jeremiah suffers along with his people intensely. But his suffering is not just unbridled grief and despair. The abundant evidence of deliberate structure demonstrates that he has not lost control in his grief. He does not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess 4:13).

The Ground of Jeremiah’s Hope

And why not? What is the anchor that grounds his hope? The answer comes at the dead center of the book of Lamentations:

Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. Yahweh’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.

“Yahweh is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I have hope in Him.” Yahweh is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of Yahweh. It is good for a man that he should bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone and be silent since He has laid it on him. Let him put his mouth in the dust, perhaps there is hope. Let him give his cheek to the smiter, let him be filled with reproach. For the Lord will not reject forever, for if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness.

I hope you lay hold of the magnitude of those words. “Affliction,” “wandering,” “wormwood” and “bitterness” are juxtaposed with “hope,” “lovingkindess,” “compassion,” and “faithfulness.” Even though Yahweh’s covenant people had been laid bare in a gruesome fashion, the Lord would not utterly destroy Israel. If He has afflicted, He will have compassion.

Jeremiah hopes in Yahweh’s compassion, lovingkindness, and covenant faithfulness. The centerpiece of Jeremiah’s lamentations in the greatest suffering he has experienced—what anchors his hope—is the character of God. Because of Yahweh’s great faithfulness to His own name, His steadfast, loyal, covenant love expressed in the repeated term chesed (Lam 3:22, 32), Jeremiah’s suffering is not just wanton misery and sorrow. Yahweh’s fresh mercies and abundant lovingkindnesses keep him from the abject anguish and heartache of those who grieve with no hope.

Clinging to His Promises

And Jeremiah’s hope isn’t simply a vague naïveté and blind trust in God’s character. He clings to the content of God’s promises to His people. Though Israel has been exceedingly unfaithful to the covenant which God made with them at Sinai, and though God has chastened them greatly because of it, their unfaithfulness will never nullify God’s faithfulness to the word which He spoke to Abraham: to give His people the land He promised (Gen 15:17–18). That is why Paul says in Romans 11 that, from the standpoint of God’s election, Israel is beloved for the sake of the fathers (Rom 11:28). God will not violate His covenant. Neither will their disobedience nullify God’s faithfulness to the word which He spoke to David: to send the Messiah to reign over them forever on the throne of David (2Sam 7:10–16; Ps 89:34–35).

Yahweh’s faithfulness to Israel for the sake of the fathers is ratified again in the New Covenant promise: “‘If this fixed order departs from before Me,’ declares Yahweh, ‘then the offspring of Israel also will cease from being a nation before Me forever.’ Thus says Yahweh, ‘If the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth searched out below, then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,’ declares Yahweh” (Jer 31:36–37; cf. Ps 89:36–37). It is for this reason—on the basis of these promises—that Jeremiah can come to the end of his lamentations and declare: “Restore us to You, O Yahweh, that we may be restored; renew our days as of old” (Lam 5:21).

The Ground of Our Hope

In the same way, as God’s people—those who are also covenant-bound to Yahweh—in our trials of suffering we also must sink the teeth of our faith into the covenant faithfulness of God. He is still utterly faithful to His promises. And He has made some magnificent promises. In the New Covenant, by virtue of our union with Jesus Christ, God the Holy Spirit Himself guarantees our inheritance—our surety of dwelling with God in His presence forever, our guarantee that nothing will ever separate us from the love of God in Christ (Rom 8:38–39).

And these promises are not just well-wishes. You can take these to the bank. God has sworn by the greatest thing by which there is to swear: Himself. “God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil,where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 6:17–20).

Our hope, just as Jeremiah’s, even and especially in intense suffering, is in the Lord’s grace. In His ceaseless lovingkindnesses. In His never-failing and always-new compassions. Because our God has united us to Himself in the person of His Son. And He will always be faithful to Himself.

Dear friends, if this be true, what suffering is too great to bear? What tragedy is too difficult to endure? What persecution could possibly steal your joy in this glorious King?

Afflicted? Yes. But not crushed. Perplexed? Sometimes. But not despairing. Persecuted? Absolutely. But oh, never forsaken. Struck down indeed, but for the sake of His name, never destroyed.

May God grant that we suffer well.

 

HT: The Cripplegate

Suffering – Part 3

Learning to Suffer Well – Recognizing the Enemy

by Mike Riccardi

Having grown up in the densely populated state of New Jersey, I learned to drive in one of the more hostile traffic environments in America. Between the New Jersey Turnpike, the Garden State Parkway, and the occasional foray across the George Washington Bridge or the Lincoln Tunnel into some part of New York City—especially Manhattan—I’ve been in my share of close calls and quick decisions. When you add the fact that I now live in Los Angeles and use some of the busiest freeways in the country on a daily basis, it’s rather a miracle that I’m still alive. In fact, there are often times when I consciously thank the Lord while driving that I was spared from this or that potential accident. I certainly know that my passengers have improved their prayer lives while driving with me from time to time.

Because of this absolutely ridiculous…um, vehicular heritage, I often make it a point to observe the different patterns other drivers follow and decisions they make while I’m driving. Sometimes I even think to myself, imagining what I would have done if a driver lost control or decided to change lanes abruptly, or whatever. “If he made a mistake and needed to jump in front of me, could I get out of his way?” Stuff like that.

Now, some people without the NY/NJ/LA driving heritage might think I’m going a little overboard here. And granted, they might be right. But I realize that in certain situations I might have only a fraction of a second to react. I need to be so prepared with a sound way of avoiding an accident that my reactions are just second nature. Because in the moment, I won’t have time to think clearly and dispassionately evaluate my options. The craziness of the moment simply won’t allow it. At least not where I’m driving.

And I really believe the same is true of Christian suffering. I suppose I might sound a bit like a broken record with the ways I’ve been introducing these posts on suffering, but I really don’t believe I can stress enough how important it is to have a rock solid theology of suffering before one actually suffers. Because in the midst of some exceedingly painful trial, the craziness of the moment often doesn’t allow for cool contemplation and sound theological reasoning. The solid foundation that keeps you grounded can’t be being constructed in the middle of the storm. It needs to be set firmly in place beforehand, so that it can serve as a sure and steadfast anchor in the midst of whatever turmoil we might experience.

God is Sovereign and Righteous in Ordaining Suffering

To that end, we come to the fourth lesson we can learn from Jeremiah about how to righteously respond to suffering. The third lesson was to acknowledge and trust in God’s absolute sovereignty in the suffering that we experience. We noted how active a role God assigns to Himself in the most wicked actions of men. And yet, though Jeremiah attributes the destruction of Israel to God’s sovereign judgment, he neither blames Yahweh nor holds Him morally responsible for the evil inflicted on His people.

Quite simply, a Bible-believing Christian has no choice but to admit that God sovereignly and actively brings about the evil events described in Lamentations. But if our understanding of God’s absolute sovereignty leads us to conclude that He is morally culpable, blameworthy, or in any way unrighteous, we’re wrong. The Scripture writers never seek to save God from His sovereignty in evil and sinful events, yet they also never attribute evil to Him directly. Apparently, there is a way for God to ordain that bad things come about without being the immediate, efficient cause for those things; i.e., without being at fault for them.

Rather, Jeremiah spoke about the arrogance of Israel’s enemies (Lam 2:15–16; 3:60–62), and called on Yahweh to judge them for the great wickedness that they had done to God’s people (Lam 1:21–22; 3:63–66; 4:21–22). Though Jeremiah explicitly states that Yahweh employed the Babylonians to accomplish His purpose, he also makes it clear that God’s absolute sovereignty in and over evil does not mitigate human responsibility for that evil.

How is this analogous to our situation when we suffer? Well, the point is: We must recognize who the enemy is in suffering. It is not God. The previous post taught us that He brings these events about to conform us more into the image of His Son, and thus to make us fit to see and know and enjoy more of Him, which is our highest happiness. So He is not the enemy. Rather, the enemy in suffering is (1) our own sin, (2) the Enemy, Satan, and (3) the last enemy: death (1Cor 15:26). And so when we go through suffering, we can and should pray along with Jeremiah for the destruction of all of these enemies.

Fight, Knowing Your Enemy is Defeated

Hebrews 2:14-15 tells us that the Son of God became man in order to render Satan powerless. And how did He do that? He freed us who were enslaved to the fear of death so that the Enemy, who had the power of death, had no power over us any longer.

And how did He free us from the fear of death? Answer: by conquering death itself. Because Christ has suffered, died, and yet rose again, demonstrating His triumph over sin and death, we too also will be raised with Him. That’s what the entire glorious chapter of 1 Corinthians 15 is about! And it concludes like this:

But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O Death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

That victory taunt, “O Death, where is your victory?…” is a quote from Hosea 13:14. What’s so interesting about that is in its original context, it wasn’t a cry of victory for God’s people. Instead, it was God pronouncing a curse upon His people. He was calling upon the thorns and the sting of death to rouse them against adulterous, idolatrous Ephraim, that unwise son whose iniquity was bound up upon him (Hos 13:12–14). Indeed, Yahweh arouses the sting of death against His people, declaring, “Compassion will be hidden from My sight.”

But the stinging reality of the phrase’s original context only makes Paul’s use of it that much sweeter. Because at the end of 1 Corinthians 15, because of what Christ has accomplished, going before us as our Deliverer, the people of God can take what was once a taunt of victory against them and shout it out as a taunt of victory against their enemy!

Our Battle Cry: Christ’s Victory

And in the midst of suffering, such a taunt can be our cry. “O Death, where is your victory? Where is your sting? Arouse them! Bring your worst! You will nevertheless remain defeated. Your power over me is entirely broken, and your sting is scarcely felt because of the sweet balm of the truth that anoints and salves my soul! Would you remind me of my indwelling sin? I would remind you of His indwelling Spirit, sent to me by my Savior, who bled and died to cancel out the debt I owed because of the hostile law. He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (Col 2:13)! Get behind me, Satan!

And therefore, my beloved brethren, we may be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that our struggle against the flesh and the fight for joy in the midst of suffering is not in vain in the Lord (1Cor 15:58).

In the midst of suffering, as we recognize our enemy, we can look back to celebrate the demise both of our sin and of Satan that took place at the cross. And we can look forward to celebrate their final and consummate destruction, when we will have put on the imperishable (1Cor 15:54) and when death and Hades will have been thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:14).

It’s right for Jeremiah to call for Yahweh’s judgment upon the Babylonians for their responsibility in causing the intense suffering of an entire nation. In the same way, it is right for us to call for God’s judgment upon and eradication of our own sin, upon the Enemy himself, and upon the last enemy: death.

HT: The Cripplegate

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