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Archive for October, 2010

“I will exalt you, O LORD,  for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. O LORD my God, I called to you for help  and you healed me.  O LORD, you brought me up from the grave; you spared me from going down into the pit (Psalm 30:1-3).”

I am not a big fan of the horror genre. In fact, I am no fan at all.

I do occasionally remember seeing the beginning of a TV show called “Tales from the Crypt”, with some sarcastic, grotesque figure introducing each episdoe. I had no interest in it, and don’t recall ever watching the program.

Stil, the moniker “Tales from the Crypt” is quite novel and I thought I would do a little research to learn something about this series. It IS Halloween!

It turns out the broadcast originated with a comic book series from the 50s. In fact, there was a film of horror anthologies made in the 1970s, each introduced by this ghoulish character.

Each stories main characters are flawed people looking out for themselves. The stories all end horribly for them. (What else would you expect in a horror film!?).

At the end of all the stories, this grotesque emcee, the Crypt Keeper, reminds all the characters of their various sins and their endings. The door to Hell opens and the characters all enter.

“And now… who is next?” asks the Crypt Keeper, who then turns to face the camera and says, slowly and melodramatically, “Perhaps you?”

Christians have approached the concept of Hell differently. Some of us see it as quite real, but are divided as to its nature. Others ignore its existence and go on about their lives. Finally, some deny Hell’s existence altogether.

This is not the place to carry on about the doctrine of Hell. However, the plausibility of its existence should at least make us think of the consequences.

If indeed Hell exists, we need to make sure we are not heading their outselves. Furthermore, we need  to rescue as many who are willing from entering its gates.

There’s only one way to avoid Hell. It’s to except the atonement of Jesus Christ.

What He did on the Cross for us was illustrated in a scene from the Old Testament.  It involved an offering.  Moses was instructed by God to collect some money from each Israelite when he took a census.

The people formed up and, when they were counted, paid the money. They then stood apart from the others. As each person gave the offering, he passed over to the “paid in full” group.

This scene was played out as a remembrance of God providing the means of forgiveness of their sins. With this “atonement money”, God was satisfied and the people were reconciled to Him. Without it, they would endure a plague (Exodus 30:11-16).

Today, if we trust in the saving work of Jesus Christ on the Cross, we are reconciled to God.  God isn’t satisfied with money now. He will only accept our faith in His Son, who has already paid our fee once and for all. If we were an invoice, we would be walking around with a big “paid in full” on our foreheads.

At Halloween we are reminded of the things pertaining to Hell. They are all over our pop culture.

One reason we can have peace and not fear during this “celebration” is that we know we are not affected by it. We have passed over, from death to life.

We won’t be a character in “Tales from the Crypt.”  The only door opening for us is the one to Heaven and eternity living with Jesus Christ. For us, Halloween ought to be a time of praise that we have been delivered from darkness. 

But there are those still stuck in the twilight zone, fearing death, and as a result, life. Thus, Halloween also ought to be a remembrance to reach out and grab those folks and let Jesus pull then to the other side.

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“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.  She brings him good, not harm,all the days of her life (Proverbs 31:10-12).”

Gregory House is happy, maybe for the first time in his life. He has found the love of his life.

Dr. House, the fictional doctor on the TV series bearing his surname, has succumbed to the charms of his boss, Lisa Cuddy. While their relationship is complicated,  they are head over heels for each other.

House is normally a curmudgeonly kind of guy. He makes a game out of mocking people, including colleagues and patients.  However, at times he seems to now have a human side.

House has one worry, though. He and Lisa have nothing common. They don’t share the same interests or hobbies.

That’s ok with Cuddy. She tells House,”Who cares about ‘common’. ‘Common is ‘common’.  We make each oter better people. That’s what matters.”

The patient of the week is a writer of a pop novel series about a boy detective. Alice (her psuedonym) has tried to shoot herself, but had a seizure right when she pulled the trigger, preventing the suicide.

When Alice gets to the hospital, she refuses treatment and gets up to leave. House puts her on a mandatory pyschiatric hold and keeps her in the hospital against her wishes. The woman wants to die.

The good doctor has more than just a professional interest in Alice. He is a big fan of her books, also.

House begins searching for a typewriter ribbon of the unpublished novel she has just finished for clues to her suicide attempt.  This is because Alice is not forthcoming about her life (and also because he us curious about the subject matter).   She is still being an uncooperative patient. 

After doing some research, House  learns that Alice was in a car accident, which killed her son. Her real name is actually Helen. She has written the boy detective series to assuage her feelings about the death of her son Jack, making him the protagonist in her popular novels. She blames herself for letting the boy drive on a rainy day.

In the end, House convinces Helen to receive treatment. House does this by lying to her and showing her fake evidence that her son had died from a brain aneurysm, not from the car accident.

House also tries to persuade Helen to keep writing her novel about Jack. However, the author refuses, telling him that the series is over.

House is not satisfied with the ending of the unwritten novel, however, and asks her to at least rewrite it. It’s a cliffhanger, and he wants resolution.

Helen (Alice) refuses. She wants to leave as it is and move on to other things.

At this point, House begins to well up in anger and says,”Your son..”. He is prepared to tell her the truth about Jack, that in fact she was responsible for his death.

But then, House turns around and sees his beautiful Lisa smiling at him. He finishes the sentence with “…was lucky to have you for a mom.”

House has indeed begun changing. The old House would have finished the sentence with the phrase he originally intended to say. However, Lisa Cuddy, his beloved, has made him a better person.

We men will go to great lengths for the women we love.  They don’t see it at times because we tend to be dense, but we will.

The story of Jacob’s romance is a good example of this.  The minute he laid eyes on Rachel he was entranced with her.

Jacob told her father that he’d sign a seven-year contract in return for her hand.  Genesis says,”So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her (Genesis 29:20).”

Even when his father-in-law tricked him and gave him Rachel’s sister instead, Jacob hung in there. He just signed another seven-year-contract.

Before this time, Jacob was more into get-rich-quick schemes and moving and shaking. Twice he had tricked his dunce of a brother out of his rightful claims, and deceived his own father for his own benefit.

Rachel had made him better.

You might even say Rachel saved his life. Had Jacob continued on his deceptive course, he might have eventually run up against someone who didn’t take kindly to his ways (Proverbs 29:1).

A relationship between a man and a woman can be complicated. The wise man of Proverbs made this a part of a list of things too amazing and incomprehensible for him (Proverbs 30:18,19)

The difficulties which arise may motivate men and women to avoid commitment to each other like the plague. People may either avoid marriage, or bow out of it when things get too hot.

Both of these choices are a mistake. Marriage makes you better.

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“Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways. You will eat the fruit of your labor;   blessings and prosperity will be yours. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots    around your table.Thus is the man blessedwho fears the LORD. May the LORD bless you from Zion all the days of your life;  may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem, and may you live to see your children’s children.     Peace be upon Israel (Psalm 128:1-6).”

The doctor asked me how I was adjusting to the medicine he had prescribed two weeks earlier to combat my newly discovered leukemia. I told him I had had no real side effects from it.

He then said,”Let me go check your blood count.” He left and then returned.

He came back with a smile on his face and told me the numbers. I was heading toward remission of the cancer cells in my blood.

I told him,”That’s great news.” And it was!

On this new day I am reflecting on what all this means. What it doesn’t mean is that I should go back to business as usual.

I feel like a man who has had a near death experience and been brought back from the dead. In many cases, the people who have these encounters turn over a new lead.

That’s what I want to do. Just because the potential of a grave in my near future has been diminished doesn’t imply that I should go back to being the old “me”.

Peter didn’t have a near death experience, but he did encounter a man who he had assumed to be dead. This man, Jesus, had led him on a three-year life changing whirlwhind. But he had just been executed by the government. 

Amazingly, he met Jesus on the seashore one morning shortly after his death. He got so excited he jumped from the boat where he had been fishing into the water.

What Peter had expected was that life would return to its old routine since Jesus had died. He would go back to his trade,fishing, and make a living.

But here Jesus was, standing in front of him. Peter knew his friend, and knew he had something to say. Usually Jesus did. After all, He was a teacher.

Sure enough, Jesus prodded Peter’s thinking. He asked Peter if he loved his fishing more than Him.

Peter was hurt by this question. How could Jesus possibly think that? Peter was thrilled his friend and leader had returned from the dead.

However, Jesus’s line of questioning was meant to show Peter the implications of the resurrection. Peter could no longer be the same, and go back to his own life.

Peter’s task? “Feed my lambs. Take care of  and feed my sheep”, Jesus said (John 21:4-17).

Jesus told Peter he had a new career. He was going to be a fisherman anymore. He was going to be a shepherd, but not the kind you would think.

Peter’s new occupation wasn’t involved with walking around a pasture with a staff poking and woolly animals. His task was now to nurture Jesus’s people.

 Peter had failed Jesus earlier in the biggest crisis of his life. When Jesus was arrested and put on trial, Peter had abandoned Him.

Peter had to be walking around with a whole lot of guilt that morning on the seashore. Seeing a living Jesus must have removed a lot of it.

But Jesus wanted more out of his friend. He wanted His full service, his full time, his total life from here on out. There was to be no more waffling.

One day, Jesus told Peter, he was going to grow old and then experience a death similar to his own. But in the meantime, Jesus said to Peter, “FOLLOW ME!”.

Jesus in effect said to him,”Do you get it, Peter?! FOLLOW ME!”.

I think Jesus is asking me the same question. He has given me another chance to  revive my moribund life.

But I don’t think His plan is for me to go back pursuing health, wealth and fame. Oh, there’s nothing wrong with these things, except ultimately they are selfish ambitions.

My proclivity for selfishness has astounded me in my recent life. I have been extremely dense in terms of understanding it.

I don’t believe I am to remain the same in my relationship to my own welfare. I believe I am supposed to forget about it and start thinking about that of others, beginning with my own loved ones.

But my love isn’t to stop there. Jesus is saying to me,”Feed my sheep. Feed my lambs.”

I don’t know the details as to who and how at this point, but one thing I do know is this: Jesus is saying,”Follow me 100 percent. I’ll take care of the rest.”

Yes, Lord. I’ll be your instrument.

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What a difference a day makes

“Though an army besiege me,  my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident…I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD  in the land of the living (Psalm 27:2,13).”

Yesterday was the day from hell. Oh, it started well enough.

I attended a men’s meeting at 6 am at my church. It’s tough getting up that early, but the 100 plus men who go believe it is worth it.

I do get tired on those days. However, yesterday wasn’t so bad. I had the energy to get through the day.

Then, as I was almost ready to leave, my boss told me that I was losing my overtime. This effectively means a 20 percent cut in pay, something I can ill afford.

I work afternoons and early evenings, so when I got home the kids were getting ready for bed. With the news I had received, I wasn’t in a good mood when I walked in the door.

It turned out, neither were they. The kids got into a tiff with each other before bedtime.  I won’t go into the details. Let’s just say that the end result was that we had a hole in a bedroom after they got through with each other.

I went to bed pretty depressed. In fact, I told my wife that it would be good news if  the doctor who I was going to see the next day told me I had two days to live. I was being facetious, sort of.

No such luck.  When I went to the doctor this morning, he in fact told me that the leukemia which I have developed is heading toward remission.

Two weeks ago I had a bunch of bogus white blood cells floating around in my blood. Today, most of those little boogers are gone.

This doesn’t mean they can’t come back. I have to control the disease with medicine. However, the doctor and I both were smiling at the news.

I had endured a bad day yesterday, but it was nothing like the one Jesus had. His was the mother of all bad days.

His day began early in the morning with a decision by some religious leaders to put Him to death. They turned Jesus over to the Roman governor.

After some interrogation the governor could find nothing to justify such a sentence. He told a gathered mob that he would release Jesus.

The mob would have none of it. They screamed for His blood.

After the governor decided to invoke the sentence, he turned Jesus over to some soldiers. These soldiers mocked Him, spat on Him and nailed Him to a wooden cross.

The mocking continued as Jesus died. The chorus included the religious leaders and a couple crooks next to Him.

On the cross, Jesus expressed His depression. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me,” He cried (Matthew 28:1-45).

The bad day eventually came to an end for Jesus though. He died, having accomplished His mission. “It is finished”, he said (John 19:30).

On another morning, a few days later, it all turned around. Jesus rose from the dead. He had made a way for eternal life for us all.

When days are bad, it’s easy to lose my confidence. When I string together several of them in a row, or they turn into months of bad days, I have just about given up.

However, each day brings something new. We never know what that is. Indeed, the wise man of Proverbs counsels us against even thinking about it (Proverbs 27:1).

All I know is that God knows when I need a shot of confidence. He surely gave me one this morning.

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“Test me, O LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth (Psalm 26:2,3).”

Yesterday I got into a discussion with a colleague about my leadership style. I currently hold an unpaid role as a team leader.

You never know what God is going to use to teach you. But it’s important to keep a humble and open mind, especially to Him.

This colleague intimated to me  that she would like a little direction as to  task we were to require of our students. I said to her that I believed in “academic freedom”, and that as long as she fulfilled the objectives I was fine with that.

Later, as I left the building we were in, she motioned me over to her car. She asked me if I had locked up. I told her that so and so was still in the building. The rule is that the last person out locks up.

“Does she have a key?”.  I told her I didn’t know.  This teacher remaining in the building is returning after a long absence.

My colleague’s reply was,”This is what I mean. Heavy is the head that wears  the crown. You should have asked her.”

I quickly defended myself, telling her that I didn’t think that being responsible for seeing that someone locks up a building was part of my job in this particular academic leadership role I had. I then joked that instead of someone wearing a crown, I felt more like one of the Thai women who wear brass coils around their necks.

These women are portrayed in one of our textbooks. From a young age they wear  these metal bands. As they grow, their necks stretch. When they reach adulthood, removing the coils would be fatal. Their necks are no longer strong enough to support their heads.

My first inclination was to brush off my colleague’s statements. After all, I thought, “who am I to tell other teachers how to run their classes”? Besides, my management style has always been somewhat “laissez faire”.

Upon reflection, however, I have realized my colleague was right. I didn’t ask for the leadership role I have been given but, since I have it, I should exercise leadership. Ignoring my fellow teachers and what they are up to is not leadership.  

Unlike me, Jesus was a great Leader. I have a lot to learn from Him.

In the period before His crucifixion, Jesus tried to instruct those around Him about what He and they were up against. He kept persevering despite the ignorance, apathy and inattention of his compatriots.

In once incident, woman anointed Him with some expensive perfume. The unthinking louts around Jesus rebuked her for the waste of the expensive aroma. Jesus in turn rebuked them.

He made them think deeper. Jesus told them that the woman was preparing His body for burial, and in fact she would be remembered forever for her actions. They are indeed recorded in Scripture (Matthew 26:6-13).

Later, on the night in which he was supping with His disciples prior to His arrest and trial, Jesus again had to get through to His disciples about the momentous events about to occur. He told them they would deny Him that night.

Again, the disciples were indignant. They replied that there was absolutely no way this was going to happen.  Not long after, they ran away at the time of His arrest (Matthew 26:31-35,56).

The disciples were a sleepy bunch during the trials of their Leader. While Jesus was agonizing over His coming crucifixion in prayer, literally sweating blood, they were nearby, napping.

Jesus didn’t ignore it. He could have. After all, in a few short hours He would be hanging on a tree, dying. Instead, Jesus said to them,”Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer (Matthew 26:36-46)!”

Jesus led right up to the end. In fact, as He was being arrested he chastized one of His followers for their violent resistance to His arrest. Jesus had to be chagrined that His disciples didn’t get the nature of His kingdom after all those years following Him.

“Heavy is the head that wears the crown.”

In truth, the above expression is a misquotation from Shakespeare.  According to Yahoo,”In Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2, Act 3, Scene 1, the king has a soliloquy. It begins, ‘How many thousand of my poorest subjects / Are at this hour asleep! O sleep, O gentle sleep, . . .’ At the end, he declares, ‘Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.’

Being a leader is an uncomfortable position to be in. In this context, though, I am exhorted by another famous quotation.

This one comes from US President Harry Truman. He had a common rejoinder: “If you can’t stand the heat , get out of the kitchen.”

On at least one occasion Truman used this phrase with his staff to not concern themselves about their decisions. He said to them,”I’ll stand by you,but if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.”

Truman also is known for saying,”The buck stops here.” Although as President he was unpopular, Truman was not afraid to make decisions. He took his leadership role seriously.

I am grateful to my colleague for waking me up to my responsibilities as a leader. She taught me a valuable lesson.

Indeed, I believe God used her. What I have learned has valuable application to not only my workplace, but also to my home life.

I never know who or what God is going to use to teach me. It’s important to keep a humble and open mind to Him. I have to consider the Source. He loves me.

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Transfusion

“Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me’ (John 6:53-57).”

I walked to my door to drop something off for my wife before heading off to work, and she told me to call the doctor. It was urgent.

My first impression was that they were only saying that.  I mean, everyone wants your time today.

However, my wife convinced me to call. When I did, I was told to report to a specialist ‘NOW!”.

When I arrived at this doctor’s office, I learned it was that of a group of oncologists.  This was not particularly encouraging.

When I met with the doctor, he told me that my white blood count was way too high, exponentially so. The word “leukemia” was mentioned.

The doctor performed a bone marrow biopsy on the spot. In a few days, my diagnosis was confirmed. I had a chronic form of leaukemia. 

I was relieved actually because I could have had the acute kind. As it turns out, this chronic leaukemia is treatable with a pill.

Walking around with a blood disorder has got me to thinking about how important the red stuff is to us. I never really though about it before because Ididn’t need to. Now I do.

It should be no surprise how important our blood is. The Bible tells us that “the life of a creature is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11)”.

My blood is faulty, though. It’s gone haywire, producing too many white blood cells. Left untreated, my blood is good for nothing, except to kill me. The life is in  the blood. If the blood is bad, so is the life.

I should have known my blood was no good. It wasn’t good enough to save me from my sin. Only the blood of Christ could do that (Hebews 9:13,14; I Peter 1:19).

Does Jesus really care about my blood disease? I think He cares immensely. After all, the Psalmist says thay my blood is precious to Him (Psalm 72:14).

He knows a lot about blood.  He shed His own for to cleanse me from sin and make me holy in His sight (Hebrews 9:22); 13:12).

I could use some new blood. The blood of Christ would be wonderful. However, He isn’t present here anymore, at least physically.

He can give me a spiritual transfusion though. His blood is still powerful today, cleansing me as I walk with Him (I John 1:7).

Sure, Jesus cares about my blood disorder. However, this condition is only temporary. He’s more interested in what I do with His own blood.

He once gave an analogy which grossed people out. He told them to eat His flesh and drink His blood if they wanted life. 

Medicine doesn’t always taste good. Food that is meant to make us healthy can be gross at times. I know. I am taking one concoction every day that is only palatable because I chase it with orange juice.

Jesus’s message is that He wants us to feed on Him if we want a healthy life, one that will last for eternity. I can start now, in my daily life, whether my blood works or not. His does.

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“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity (Colossians 3:12-14).”

Khalid is an alchemist in who has tried to trick his ruler into believing that he could make gold from other substances. When his deception is discovered, Khalid’s hand is removed as punishment.

Author Kim Stanley Robinson portrays Khalid as a disillusioned, bitter man in his novel “The Years of Rice and Salt”.  Khalid begins to care for nothing, and even begins to destroy his precious books and alchemy equipment.

Bahram wants to help his father-in-law Khalid, so he seeks out the local mystic for advice.  The sufi tells him that Khalid’s problem is that he has depended soley on his intellect, and now that he has seen its limits he is depressed.

He further tells Bahram:

“Intellect has no real mettle, you see, and at the first real threat, into a hole it scuttles. But love is divine. It comes from the realm of the infinite, and is entrusted to the heart as a gift from God. Love has no calculation in it. ‘God loves you’ is the only possible sentence. So it’s love you must follow to the heart of your father-in-law.”

Bahram follows the msytic’s advice.  He begins to take over Khalid’s jobs, which he is neglecting. Bahram keeps his spirit high.

However, Khalid wants no part in this effort to love him. He snarls at any affection, even from his wife, daughter or grandchildren. He is an irritable curmudgeon.

Khalid even balks when Bahram suggests outright during a scientific experiment that love is the unknown force involved in causal chains. He mocks Bahram’s idea, citing the immorality of the religious figures around him.

Bahram and the rest of Khalid’s relatives had to be frustrated. Despite their continued love to the old crank, he continued to resist.

A spiritual mentor of mine told me once that real change is possible, even when someone resists the change. He said that God uses circumstances and suffering to force us to look inward so that we make real and lasting change.

I could be Khalid. I have a good tendency to be a stubborn curmudgeon. It’s a male trait of my family.

Yet, Khalid and I are different in that I at least have tried to affect change. The trying events and suffering God had brought into my life has made me run to God in despair.

I have realized I can’ t think my way out of my problems. If I could do that, my problems would have been solved long ago.

When I overthink the same old stuff, it just becomes like trying to refry the same old egg. It just gets me nowhere.

What I have met when I have run to God is steadfast love.  What I have seen in the darkness is the loving light of Christ, and Him waiting for me with open arms.

I have seen the truth of what Jeremiah wrote in the Old Testament in the Bible:

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
       the bitterness and the gall.

 I well remember them,
       and my soul is downcast within me.

 Yet this I call to mind
       and therefore I have hope:

 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
       for his compassions never fail.

 They are new every morning;
       great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:19-23).”

I have learned a big lesson. I have earned that since God hasn’t given up on me, and has continued to love me despite my denseness, stubborness, and resistance, I should in turn love others like me.

I think of a person I have encountered at work in this regard. This young man after several months continues to resist the efforts made toward him to help him succeed.

I had not seen him for a while, but now he is back in my day-to-day sphere of influence. Last week, when he broke some rules, I strongly rebuked him. I had some recollection in my mind that this fellow had failed when I had tried to help him before.

I checked some records, and sure enough he had been with me this summer. I have thought its best that he find another person besides me to help him.

Yet, I am reconsidering this thought to day. Perhaps I ought to try a different approach, the way of love.

My bad temper is not going to work with him. I could see it in his face as I barked.

The wise man of Proverbs says that pleasant words promote instruction, and provide sweetness and healing.  He also says that a person who controls his temper and remains patient is better than a combat soldier.

It may be the world’ s way to be a martinet, but it isn’t necessarily God’s. The wise man of Proverbs tells us that there is a way that SEEMS right, but it leads to death.  This could very well be true of a harsh approach with the particular indivual I am dealing with at work.

I think the fictional character Bahram has hit on something. Love is the force that holds the whole world together.

Ishouldn’t give up on it even when others don’t want any part of it. God surely hasn’t given up on me. He keeps on loving.

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