Category Archives: Gleanings

A Personal Relationship with God

A DEIST is someone with a theory about a supreme being. His speculations about that being arise out of his own finite, sin corrupted resources.  The Deist does not claim to have a personal relationship with his god. Nor can he, for the obvious reason that it has no real existence!

So Deism is merely a sophisticated form of idolatry. Its idol is not a statue of stone or wood, but it is just as unworthy of worship and just as harmful to its worshipers as are those physical monstrosities.

Then we have the false religionist, the one who has “…a form of godliness but denies the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5). For him, everything is external and mechanical so to speak. The wooing Voice of Proverbs 23:26 says, “My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways.” The false religionist has no ears to hear those precious words.

But the Bible tells us that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of true knowledge and wisdom (Proverbs 1:7, 9:10 et. al.). The one who fears the self-revealing, triune God of the Bible does indeed have a personal relationship with his heavenly Father, his Lord Jesus, and the One Who indwells him, the Holy Spirit.

The Christian, by the power of the Holy Spirit, receives the holy Bible’s essential Gospel message about Christ the eternal Son of God becoming man to accomplish redemption for all the heavenly Father’s family. By grace, he is both born again and adopted into that family. His spirit cries to God, “Abba…Father!”

In His high priestly prayer the Lord Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. (John 17:3)

The inspired words of the apostle John, who was right by Jesus’ side when He instituted the Lord’s supper, teach us the same truth. “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20)

So of course it is quite accurate for the believer who is bearing witness to an unbelieving Deist neighbor to proclaim that he is not a fellow speculator about what a supreme being might be like. Rather, he testifies that he was lost in darkness but then was found by the one true God. He affirms that he knows that one, true God in a personal way.

And it is quite accurate for the believer bearing witness to the false religionist to say, “I don’t have a religion, I have a personal relationship with Jesus.” The disciple is one who says amen to the apostolic affirmation, “…though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8).

So we rejoice in what Jesus said in His high priestly prayer recorded in John 17: “this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” But more must be said about the believer’s personal relationship with God triune.

That is, we want to continue to be Biblical as we grow in our understanding of a believer’s relationship with His heavenly Father, His dear and only Savior, and the blessed Spirit: the three divine Persons with Whom we finite persons are involved. And we want our aspirations for more and more communion with God to be like the apostle Paul’s: “…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death…” (Philippians 3:10)

May God use these three precepts derived from His word to guide us thereto:

1. The basis of our finite, creaturely relationships with God is the eternal covenant of redemption which inheres in the eternal relationships of the three Members of the Trinity. Their loving plan stood from all eternity: The Father would send the Son to accomplish redemption and the Holy Spirit would apply it.

Likewise our relationship to God is primarily covenantal. The place of the mind and affections in one’s relationship with God is subordinate to this. Human marriage, primarily a covenant, is much like God’s covenant relationship with His people. In fact, human attempts to redefine marriage are despicable because marriage represents the eternal union of Christ and the church according to the covenant of redemption. Just as we argue for the sanctity of human life because of the image of God in us, so we argue for the sanctity of marriage because it represents the divine Groom and His elect bride.

2. Communication in our relationship with God is not characterized by the verbal dissonance, misunderstanding, and interruptions which corrupt relationships between human persons. Former ways having ceased (Hebrews 1:1), the personal God speaks to us now only by His holy word the Bible. Surely, by His Spirit we gain insights and make discoveries from Scripture, but Scripture itself teaches that no other words of private, verbal revelation are needed for the present time. (2 Timothy 3:17)

We communicate with God by prayer, ever seeking to conform to Scripture our adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and intercession (A.C.T.S.) along with any other kinds of prayer, trusting in the “coming-along-side” help of the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, who makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered, Romans 8:26.

3. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17) In our relationships with God, we ever remember that one Party (the Lord) is unchangeable and the other party (us) is not; we are all too often fickle and unfaithful. Let us ever keep that in mind when there is an estrangement in our  relationship with God. If we feel distant from Him, it is not He Who has moved!

Previously published, July A.D. 2016

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Coals of Fire?

“If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again.” (Exodus 23:4),

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; lest the LORD see it, and it displease Him, and He turn away His wrath from him.” (Proverbs 24:17-18)

“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for so you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the LORD will reward you.” (Proverbs 25:21-22)

Though hard to hear and easily misapplied, what saying of Christ is more generally known than, “love your enemies?” (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27, 35).

Jesus Himself is of course the prime example of an enemy lover, and those whom He has redeemed by His own precious blood are the greatest examples of enemies turned into friends by the love of Him Who first loved them. For “…God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

The three Old Testament citations above show that in uttering that hard saying, Jesus was not introducing a brand new ethical standard. Rather, as when He spoke of the two greatest commandments (compare Matthew 22:35-40 with Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18), He was magnifying the beauty and holiness of God’s Law and correcting those who misused God’s delightful Law.

(Such pharisaical abusers of the law are to be found today, giving God’s law and those who love it a bad name. They put a stumbling block in the path of those who might otherwise embrace verses like Roman 3:31 “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law!” and 1 Timothy 1:8 “But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully.”)

The old covenant Scriptures instruct God’s people of today in HOW one is to love his enemies; how we are to be doers and not merely assenters. “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)

Exodus 23:4, a case study in enemy loving, is rather straightforward. An application for those of us not very likely to encounter wandering donkeys in day to day life might be, “if you see your enemy sitting in his pick-up truck with a dead battery, get your jumper cables out and help him get his engine started. Then, in order to make sure he gets there without further mishap, follow him that extra mile to his local repair shop.”

But what about this matter of “heaping coals of fire on his head?” At first blush, this seems like the very opposite of helping an enemy with his burden bearing equipment (living or inanimate), or giving him food and water, or keeping one’s heart from being glad about his troubles.

As Bible commentator Matthew Henry has pointed out, we should think of this statement with the ancient smelting furnace in mind. The intense heat that melted the metal was not only placed beneath it, but poured on from above in the form of hot coals. Kindness to our enemies has that melting effect. To use a good old fashioned word, it MOLLIFIES them…calms their anger, amazes their minds, stirs up and perhaps convicts their consciences for their ultimate good.

And if an enemy is too hardened to be mollified, those acts of kindness will further harden him, and in the day when God (to Whom alone vengeance belongs) arises, the Scripture will be fulfilled which says, “…in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who “will render to each one according to his deeds.” (Romans 2:5,6)

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Previously published elsewhere, September 13, A.D. 2015

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Male and Female

Masculinism is not an every day word. Feminism is more so, and the ideology identified by that word has many champions. But where are the spokespersons for masculinism)? Does the Bible address the concepts of masculinity (“male-ness” and femininity (“female-ness”)?

Thus says the LORD:  “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

“Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure: the likeness of male or female…” (Deuteronomy 4:15-16)

We rightly infer a couple of precepts from these and other portions of the whole counsel of God in Scripture. The first concerns the natural dignity of men and women as persons made in the image of their personal Creator, Whose uncreated dignity is infinitely greater than that of any created person, and Whose infinite being cannot be depicted by the artistry of any finite human being.

A rock is inferior to a tree, a tree is inferior to a horse, and a horse or any other animal is inferior to any man, woman, or child. And though human individuals are diverse in characteristics and abilities, we all share in that majestic and unique honor: we are like God. We are living self portraits of the great Painter.

Next, though the second Person of the Trinity became incarnate as a male human being, God in Himself transcends human sexuality. The commandment in Deuteronomy underscores this. So we must look elsewhere for the reason that God the Father is not called God the Mother, and why masculine pronouns are used consistently in Scripture for the Holy Spirit and for each of the three Persons of the Trinity. Here is another key verse:

“For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.” (1 Corinthians 11:7)

The issue of literal head coverings in worship assemblies is a matter to be discussed some other time! However, with these Holy Spirit inspired words about the respective glories of man and woman, the apostle has regard to what is taught from Genesis 2:18 onward in Scripture: God has given distinct roles (we might say assignments) to man and woman according to His good and perfect will.

This does not contradict the first precept. The Holy Spirit’s use of masculine terms with reference to the transcendent God throughout the Bible is itself a testimony to the proper roles of male and female. The First Corinthians verse does not contradict the Bible’s insistence on the essential equality of man and woman.

The old covenant priests and Levites all were male; in new covenant communities their heirs (elders and deacons) are to be men as well, per the qualifications given in the pastoral epistles which include the requirement that an elder or a deacon be the husband of one wife. Neither Anna (Luke 2:36) nor Priscilla (Acts 18, Romans 16) held ordained office. Although Phoebe was a servant of the church (Romans 16:1), she was not an ordained deacon. All those chosen in Acts 6 to serve in that capacity were men.

The point is that according to Scripture masculinity (“male-ness”), while not intrinsically superior to femininity (“female-ness”) nevertheless represents divine authority in a particular way.

With Biblical women like motherly Deborah (Judges 4:4, 5:7) in mind, even some Christians might balk at this assertion which is so contrary to today’s worldly wisdom. Scripture records that Deborah the wife of Lapidoth indeed judged. But unlike the other judges, we do not find it written that “God raised her up.” Barak’s role in the full account should not be ignored. Ever respecting the greater context of Scripture, we remember that the time of Barak and Deborah was a time “when every man did what was right in his own eyes.” The case of Deborah and Barak is illustrative of the precept of Isaiah 3:12 –

“As for My people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O My people! Those who lead you cause you to err, and destroy the way of your paths.”

Did Holy Spirit inspired Isaiah write this to teach that women are inferior to men? Not at all! As we see in Genesis 1:27 et. al., the same Holy Spirit has affirmed the equality of men and women as divine image bearers.

Consider this: the eternal Son of God is equal in power and glory to His Father, and to the Holy Spirit Who spoke by the prophets. (Arians* and others who deny the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ hold to a damnable heresy; they are outside of Biblical orthodoxy.) Yet, humbling himself by His incarnation, the Son was subordinated to the Father and filled with the Spirit to fulfill His Messianic calling. Thus He could say, “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). He did not say, “the Father is better than I.”

America’s Declaration of Independence proclaims that all men are created equal. In one sense, this is exactly correct, but in another sense it is obviously false. As to our essential nature we are all equally stamped with the divine image. But just as one artist might paint the same subject many times but with different facial expressions or bodily poses, so God creatively nuances His image by way of mankind’s endless diversity of traits. Male and female are the most basic of those traits. Every human being, every individual rendering of the divine image, is either feminine or masculine.

So that mankind also would reflect the being of God triune by loving, orderly community life, womanhood and manhood were made complementary at creation (Genesis 1:26-28, 2:18). That foundational building block of human society remains in place to this day (1 Corinthians 11:11). Reproductive parenthood is its normative issue, for upon creating them God commanded the first human pair to “be fruitful and multiply.” He repeated that command to the few survivors of the Noahic Flood, from whom the whole Earth was repopulated (Genesis 9:19). The “nuclear” family is God’s institution.

Therefore as Bible believing people, we identify a cluster of ungodly errors that grow out of the denial of that…of God’s created order. Among them are the concept of unisexuality, feminism, male tyranny, diverse redefintions of marriage (for example, polygamy) and all the insidious ways in which parental authority is overthrown. We condemn these perversions. And we affirm that although sin corrupts all things human, societies are at their best when they best submit to our Creator’s design. We also affirm that it is unlawful for any human government to overturn that divine plan.

* Arians were so named after Arius, a third century proponent of this false teaching

Previously published elsewhere, June A.D. 2016

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Don’t worry, be…

A look back through the millennia makes clear that liberty has been a rarity for the fallen sons of Adam. Even if we Americans claim that we live in “the land of the free,” we must be brave and qualify that claim. Liberty and justice have not been enjoyed always and by all here. And the republic brought forth on this continent in the 18th century is now only eleven score and seven years young – we are a toddler nation, and an experimental one as well.

But there is an ancient kingdom that has been growing and flourishing for two thousand years, founded in the days of the Caesars just as the captive prophet previously foretold (Daniel 2:44). This kingdom is firmly rooted in the past even more deeply than that. Its truly human Ruler is invisible not on account of His being ethereal or having only the existence of a philosophical construct, but because He is transcendently exalted over all the earth. His righteous and kindly rule is the bountiful source of every good thing received by every human being under Heaven.

As hymnist Ernest W. Shurtleff (A.D. 1862-1917) phrased it, “for not with swords loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums; with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes.”  As history marches onward to His final triumph over death itself, people of every nation, tribe, people, and tongue are increasingly bowing the unfeigned knee to King Jesus. As they keep His holy and righteous commandments and thus live in genuine love, His beneficent rule becomes quite visible. It is made manifest by its fruit, full of the sweet nectar of peace.

“Don’t worry be happy” is pollyannaish*. Bitter disappointment and worse will continue to be the legacy of every heroic looking figure in our endless pantheon** of false christs. “Think globally, act locally” comes closer to the mark but lacks the life giving marrow that comes from certain bones which were never broken on that ancient Roman cross. God’s word reveals the only empowering hope for living triumphantly through the greatest darkness of this world.

The sure hope of the citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven is celebrated in the 37th Psalm, one of those timeless songs that the Spirit of God breathed out through David son of Jesse, Christ’s ancestor and foreshadower. Are you are able to receive them with joy?

“Do not fret because of evildoers, nor be envious of the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.”

* derived from the name of a child heroine created by American author Eleanor Porter (A.D. 1868-1920), the word means unreasonably or illogically optimistic

** a domed, circular temple at Rome, erected c. A.D. 120 by the emperor Hadrian, gave us this word which refers to the gods of a particular mythology, considered collectively.

Previously published elsewhere, March 13, A.D. 2016

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Government

What comes to mind when you hear that word? The “beltway jungle” a.k.a. Washington D.C? The source of your angst over the taxes you pay? Your local city hall?

Starting with the premise that civil (state) authority – i.e. the magistrate, to use a good old fashioned term – is only one dimension of government, let’s explore more of what government entails.

DIVINE government is the fountainhead of all government, and every realm of human government is subject and accountable to God. No rule or authority is excluded from the prophetic declaration about the coming Messiah, “the government will be upon His shoulders” (Isaiah 9:6). What government will be upon His shoulders? ALL government! That prophecy has been fulfilled. ALL power in heaven and earth already has been given to the risen, reigning Son of God (Matthew 28:18)!

When God the Arch Governor created Adam pure and upright and gave him a vocation, SELF government was established. Self-control as it relates to wicked excesses (anger, lusts, various evil desires) is only a part of self government in a sinful world. It also involves purposeful determination to find and fulfill one’s role in the divine plan. Self government was designed to be perpetual, pervasive, and exercised voluntarily. People who govern themselves well are the most powerful of people (Proverbs 16:32).

When God added a wife to the first man, taken from his own body (Genesis 2:21,22), and told them to be fruitful and multiply, FAMILY government began. It is within the family led by a father and mother to whom honor is due (Fifth Commandment) that self government under God is taught, exemplified, and passed on. Self governed children outgrow the need for parental government, and in most cases become the next generation of parental government over new families.

CHURCH government, equally established by God, is that which pertains to the extended family whose members are the household of God (Ephesians 2:19). Professing Christians who deny the legitimacy of church government or despise its authority rob themselves. Those outside of the church and not united to Christ are in rebellion against God to begin with, so it should not surprise us when we see little success in self or family government among them.

STATE or civil government was also established by God for this fallen world. When citizens of a state are primarily self governed members of well governed families and churches, this fourth realm of government can also perform better in its limited role. To the degree that self, family, and church government are dysfunctional in a society, the magistrate tends to take over their roles, and proves itself unable to fill them without clumsy waste that grows into oppression, and from there into forceful and even violent coercion. Sorry, philosopher G.W.F. Hegel: the state is NOT “god walking on earth!”

Imagine government as a pyramid. Christ the sure foundation, Christ the only foundation, Christ the cornerstone is that pyramid’s foundation. Self-governed people who are members of solid families and churches are the middle tiers of the pyramid. State government is the topmost and smallest part. A people with that kind of government structure will endure. A people who turn the pyramid upside down (making the civil magistrate the foundation of, or even the only kind of government) tumbles into chaos.

Perhaps in that figurative scenario we see the words of Jesus the Cornerstone fulfilled: “And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” (Matthew 21:44, Luke 20:18)

Previously published elsewhere, November 1, A.D. 2015

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Speeders and Other Scofflaws

As a result of the recent San Bernardino, California mass shooting and other tragic events this year, there is much discussion and debate going on in our society about firearms and whether or not they should be regulated and how. In other words, so-called GUN CONTROL is a hot topic of the day.

How should we think about this issue as Bible believing Christians?

First, we know that God created a very good world which did not include death, misery, and sorrow of any kind. There were no guns or shooters in the garden of Eden. Human sin is the reason we have death, misery, and sorrow. Sin is the ultimate cause of the existence of war, violence, or any weapon. And we know that God’s plan to save the world through the Lord Jesus Christ will bring about the final and eternal overthrow of those all these things.

In the meantime, God has given us directives for handling sin when it occurs. He ordains punishment for various sinful deeds that never should have been committed in the first place. Another example is divorce. God hates it (Malachi 2:16) and normally marriage should be for life. Yet in this fallen world and in certain circumstances, divorce is permissible.

Similarly, the use of weapons to defend oneself or one’s neighbor is just and permissible, even though in a sinless world there would be no need for weapons at all!

Abraham armed his household and forcefully rescued Lot (Genesis 14), and Scripture does not condemn him for it. Just before His arrest, the Lord Jesus said to His disciples, “…he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.” (Luke 22:36)

The next time you see a 55 MPH speed limit sign, and you notice that everybody (perhaps including you!) is zooming along at 65 MPH or more, think about the idea of gun control laws. If people were by nature righteous law-keepers, we would obey God’s commandments and  the rules established by God ordained authorities which do not violate God’s commandments. In other words, not one motorist would exceed the speed limit.

That’s obviously not the way we are by nature! We are disobedient sinners…disobedient to God, to parents, and to other lawful human authority God has placed over us. So what will gun control laws or signs that read “Gun Free Zone” accomplish in terms of stopping violent acts committed with firearms? They will be as effective as speed limit law and signs are in controlling traffic!

Neither the United States Constitution, nor its Second Amendment which affirms that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” has the authority of Scripture. However, that document, the law of our land, reflects the life preserving requirement of the Sixth Commandment, which  requirement the Lord Jesus upheld with His words recorded by Luke.

Guns are only inanimate objects. What must be restrained and dealt with in this fallen world are the sinful human hearts which can use inanimate objects for good or for evil.

Consider this hypothetical situation: a terrorist is about to begin a shooting spree, and the difference between life and death is a matter of SECONDS for many people. Meanwhile, the “professionally armed,” that is the police, are several MINUTES away.

Should we have laws that would restrict an armed citizen, present at our hypothetical place of wicked violence, from acting decisively to preserve his own life and the lives of his neighbors? Would those laws be obeyed by any deranged terrorist, determined to kill many innocent people?

Previously published elsewhere, December 13, A.D. 2015

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Institutional Backsliding, Part Five

God’s Word is truth. Truth anchors the human soul. Without it, one is adrift in a sea of relativism; in other words a shadowy realm where there is nothing to depend upon. The story of New Testament scholar Eta Linnemann, as disclosed in her book, “Historical Criticism of the Bible”, is revealing.

(Historical Criticism is a theologically liberal approach to Bible study which assumes that statements in Scripture regarding place, time, sequences of events and persons are accepted only insofar as they fit in with established assumptions and theories of human origin.)

As a convert out of theological liberalism, Linnemann wrote: “…God through His grace and Word has given me insight into the theoretical dimensions of this theology. Instead of being based on God’s Word, it has its foundations in philosophies which made bold to define truth so that God’s Word was excluded as the source of truth.source”

There is surely a place in Christian practice for a legitimate version of the high ideals which come to mind when we remember our fine old family of English words: liberality, liberate, liberty, and even liberal. In fact, those ideals only can be “fleshed out” well in the context of moral absolutes and bedrock truths. Among believers, there must be loving tolerance, mutual acceptance, and respect when it comes to non-essentials. Some Christians kneel to pray, some do not. In the apostolic church, some ate meat sacrificed to idols, some did not. Some Christians are very animated and sanguine in worship, others are more reserved and quiet.

Whether or not a Christian may be theologically liberal, however, is not a matter among the “non-essentials”. All should pray in faith, and worship in spirit and in truth, and all should stand against this form of idolatry…for that is what theological liberalism is! The ancient Israelites forsook God and served man-made idols in the days of the judges. So God’s people today do, when they despise His word and remake “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) into “the faith that has the approval of modern man”.

How can Christians fight this plague? Let’s revisit the book of Judges. Like the intermittently besieged descendants of Jacob, Church is under great oppression in our land in these days. Might this be on account of wholesale backsliding into complacency, compromise, and theological liberalism? Would God afflict us needlessly with a surrounding society that is perhaps worse than Sodom?

“He does not afflict willingly, Nor grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:33). Is He not the sovereign without whose permission not even Satan can lift a finger (cf. Job 1)? “When a man’s ways please the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Proverbs 10:1). The American Church’s compromising ways have not pleased Him. Perhaps He is allowing our enemies to chastise us.

Today, the battle is spiritual; we wrestle not against flesh and blood Canaanite oppressors. The Ashtoreth of theological liberalism has seduced us, and we have served Baal: theological liberalism dressed up as orthodoxy. Now is the time to cry out to the Lord! Cry out to the Lord of the harvest. Implore him that mighty deliverers be raised up. What is needed in America today is not another program for economic or educational aid by the government, not a clever political solution, but loud, trumpeting blasts of the pure, unadulterated Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Not yet following this blog? Parts One through Four were posted on the first four Saturdays of October A.D. 2016

Previously published March  6, A.D. 2016

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