Clones for Christ

Jesus doesn’t need clones.

Jesus doesn’t call us to be like other Christians, and he doesn’t call other Christians to try to mold us in their images. Yet sometimes I read articles by someone famous and it sounds an awful lot like “If you would only live the Christian life exactly how I tell you to, the way that I tell you I live mine, then you’ll be the person God wants you to be.”

Those leaders appear to want to operate a disciple machine like this:

From the funny folks at Leadership Journal

From the funny folks at Leadership Journal

That’s not what really happens in God’s family, though. In fact, the family aspect of belonging to God is the first clue that we are not to be clones, but rather individuals. When you look at a family you don’t see people who are indistinguishable from one another. Sure there are similarities and family traits, but families do not consist of absolute identical beings.

Consider the people Jesus drew alongside him. The twelve disciples who were closest to him included fishermen, a tax collector, a political/religious activist, and more. After spending three years by Jesus’ side they continued in their individuality. Even after the Holy Spirit came on Jesus’ followers following his resurrection, they still showed remarkable diversity in the way they lived out their faith.

Peter and John preached together for a while but eventually split up and Peter settled on the coast, while John traveled far to the north to reach out to people completely unlike the neighbors he grew up with on the shores of Galilee. John’s brother James, on the other hand, stayed in Jerusalem, the big city also so unlike their home town, to lead the infant fellowship of believers. It got him killed. The government didn’t like this new movement of faith and went right to the top to stop it by getting rid of the person who seemed to be in charge. James was dead, yet the church continued to grow even without his leadership.

That’s the thing about belonging to Jesus. No one is really in charge, and no one really has a say in how everyone else is supposed to behave. Any time I see a new church or movement claiming to be Christian, I figure I should wait to see if it can survive the removal or death of its founder. One thing I’ve discovered is that if there is a leadership crisis and the church closes up shop or the movement folds, then it was probably more about the leader trying to make people do things his way (and usually it was a man in charge) rather than pointing people to Jesus.

Christianity survived the death of James – and Peter, and John, and Paul, and Timothy, and Barnabas and all the other people we read of in the Bible – because our faith is about Christ and not about them. It continues to survive despite what some leaders today are trying to do in making their followers in their own images. Their movements might fall, but the church will stand.

And as people who belong to Jesus’ family, as the people who each make up the body of Christ, as the church universal that stands for eternity in God’s kingdom, we also will not fall but forever remain with God.

***

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Cowboy and the Preacher Shake Hands

My hand was cold and clammy and I couldn’t help it but the preacher wanted to shake it anyway.

My hand wasn’t the only thing being shook. My whole body had the shakes. I’d never felt so cold in the middle of summer. The trail boss put me under a piece of canvas from the chuck wagon to get me out of the sun, but truth be told I’d’ve rather stayed out there in the heat. Except for when the chills left me and the fever took over.

The preacher was passing through, riding circuit from one town to some other town. I don’t know much about the towns hereabouts, just riding herd across the open range. The end of the trail was still a couple weeks north and here I was laid up bringing the cattle drive to a halt.

“Mind if I pray for you, son?”

“Nope, s’pose not. Just help me sit up first.”

“You should lie back and rest,” he said.

“But you said we’re going to pray.”

“You can pray there in your blanket just fine. God doesn’t mind.”

Seemed odd to pray on my back, but then the fever came on and I couldn’t do anything but stay down under my blanket anyway.

He went to where his horse was tied and pulled a Bible out of his bags. He sat next to me under the canvas strung between the branches of one of the scrawniest oak trees stuck out here in the middle of the range and read, “‘Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.‘”

“Now Lord,” he said, “this child of yours here is burning like a furnace with this fever, and he needs your healing so he can get back up with the strength of those frolicking calves your prophet Malachi is talking about here in your word. You’re the Almighty, so you can do it. Amen.”

Funny kind of prayer, I thought, but I couldn’t not say amen to it. So I did.

“Now here’s some water, take it slow.”

It was warm on my tongue, but felt good. “Do you think that prayer’s going to work?”

“Why do you ask?”

“The cook on the last cattle drive we were on, last summer, he got a fever. The trail boss prayed a lot for him, but he didn’t make it.”

“All I can tell you is that God answers every prayer every time. He just doesn’t always say yes.”

“So I might die too?

“Of course you’re going to die, son. We all are. What matters is what comes after that.”

“That’s what the trail boss said. Cookies’ parents told me they weren’t worried about him when I told ‘em he’d died. They were awfully sad about it, but they seemed kind of cheerful almost in their grief. Said he was with Jesus.”

“It sounds like Cookie and his parents knew the Lord.”

“Well, his Dad’d been a preacher, like you.”

“So they knew where Cookie was, even though he’d died.” He stood up and put his Bible back in his saddle bag. “What about you, son. Do you know the Lord?”

“Sometimes I talk to the trail boss about God. Maybe that’s why I wanted to ride with him again this year. Cookie’s mother gave me his Bible to keep for myself, so I try to read it and learn what I can about God.” I reached toward the canteen and he stooped down and brought it to my lips. “Can’t say that I think I know him, though, not like you and the trail boss do, or like Cookie did.”

“I think your friend Cookie still knows Jesus, and a lot better than I do,” he said.

“Preacher, I’m sorry to say it but I’m feeling awfully tuckered.”

“Sure, ‘course you are. You need to rest. I’ve got a feeling God’s not done with you.”

I was about out of strength to stay awake, but my question about his last comment must have shown on my face.

“I don’t think my passing by while you’re laid up here in camp was an accident. I don’t believe in accidents, not like this anyway. No, the Lord brought me across your trail today for a reason.” He stood up again. “Where’s that Bible Cookie’s mother gave you?”

I lifted my hand a couple inches and pointed at my saddle bags by my horse Pete, tied up next to his.

He got the Bible and opened to a place somewhere in the middle. “This is another one of God’s prophets,” he said, “a wise man named Isaiah, and he wrote ‘Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near.’ That’s good advice.”

He folded down the corner of the page and placed the Bible next to the canteen. “You read that for yourself when you’re a bit stronger and keep seeking God.”

“Seeking?” I managed to croak out. “I don’t know … .”

“Oh you’ve been seeking him, son. But you’ve known that for a while. What you may not know is that means he’s been seeking you even longer.”

I closed my eyes, maybe from exhaustion, maybe just from thinking on what he just said. God seeking me? The trail boss said things like that too.

My head sank deeper into Pete’s saddle I was using for a pillow. I didn’t even hear the preacher ride off.

***

[The Cowboy's story began in Counting Canyons and continued with his visit to Cookie's parents in Cold Canyon.]

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Sunday School – One is all you need

People look for fulfillment, for their heart’s desires, for their destiny even, by adding on and adding on and adding on as if by multiplying their accomplishments and acquiring ever more they will finally be done.

The Bible says otherwise:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6.)

There is One and he is all we need, because in the Lord enough is a feast.

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Appreciating Friday – a haiku

Friday afternoons
Lead to Saturday mornings -
What could be better?

***

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Is The Cross of Christ Even Necessary?

[From the archives.]

***

Language – Go Figure

When love and apples meet  (free-picture.net)

When love and apples meet
(free-picture.net)

Language can be literal and language can be figurative. But all language is an analog. It stands for something else. The word “apple” is not itself an apple. The word “love” is not itself love. Words stand in for the real thing.

Perhaps the simplest languages are the ones called on to work hardest at being analogous. Think of how computer programmers use zeroes and ones – and nothing but zeroes and ones – to carry out complex functions. English, on the other hand, has one of the largest stores of words known, with the 20 volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.) listing over 170,000 words in current use and another 47,000 obsolete words. That’s a lot different than trying to express everything with only a zero and a one to call upon.

Words, then, are symbols we use for expression. C.S. Lewis once divided these expressive symbols into two categories:

Two kinds of symbol must surely be distinguished. The alphabetical symbol comes naked into the world of mathematics and is clothed with value by its masters. A poetic symbol – like the Rose, for Love … – comes trailing clouds of glory from the real world, clouds whose shape and color largely determine and explain its poetic use. In an equation, x and y will do as well as a and b, but the Romance of the Rose could not, without loss, be re-written as the Romance of the Onion, and if a man did not see why, we could only send him back to the real world to study roses, onions, and love, all of them still untouched by poetry, still raw.

The titular question – Do We Really Need the Cross of Christ? – is not meant to lead us to a discussion of atonement doctrines. This post is not about Governmental Atonement versus Christus Victor versus Penal Substitution versus Ransom versus whatever other doctrines you care to list. I am concerned here with the question of whether we need the cross of Christ as a symbol.

Ripping Off Crosses

Not the cross I wore - wrong color  (Wikimedia)

Not the cross I wore – wrong color
(Wikimedia)

When I was an atheist, I wore a cross. It was a gift from an old girlfriend, a small silver cross on a thin silver chain. I liked the way it looked and it gave me something to fiddle with when I was bored.

One time, shortly before becoming a Christian, a couple of young Christian women I’d met asked me about it. I told them the story, and that to me its symbolic attributes were of nothing more than a relationship past. Later, after I came to Christ, one of the women told me that every time she saw me wearing it she wanted to rip it from my neck.

That cross, even merely a tiny metal symbol of the one Jesus hung on, meant something to her quite different from what it meant to me. I’m glad she didn’t give in to her urges.

The Reality of Symbols

Some might say that symbols are irrelevant when you have the real thing. Jesus died on a cross, they’d point out, isn’t that enough? In a sense, yes it is.

But God himself uses symbols, metaphors, idioms, and more in his very own word. (I wrote about it here.) In fact, the Bible itself speaks of the cross as symbol.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18.)

A cross made of real wood was the instrument of death for our Savior, who was nailed in place with real metal spikes. Yet God’s word says that very real cross is also a symbol, a message. Depending on the hearer, that message is either foolishness or the power of God: think of me in my atheist days and my friend who controlled her urge to rid my neck of the cross, chain and all.

Yet do we need the cross as a symbol? Apparently we do. It symbolizes for us God’s power of salvation, what he as done in sending the Son into the world. As Jesus himself told us:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:17-18.)

The cross, then, symbolizes much. Salvation. Freedom from condemnation. The hope of the world. And as Lewis said, such a symbol trails “clouds of glory from the real world”, the reality of what Jesus has done for us.

So I’d say yes, we really do need the cross of Christ. Symbolically and literally, it exists for our salvation.

***

What comes to your mind when you see the symbol of the cross?

Has seeing a cross ever realigned your thoughts to God?

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Jesus Doesn’t Run Over Kittens

A long line of cars followed as I turned off the freeway. I imagine many of the drivers were, like me, just wanting to get home after a day at work. Turning left, there wasn’t much time for the cars to space out the distance between them before the next intersection and it’s red light.

A few yards from the limit line the light turned green and I took my foot off the brake pedal. Then I put it back on. Hard. The huge pick-up truck in my rearview mirror, hauling a trailer full of landscaping equipment, looked like it might not stop in time to avoid smashing into my bumper. I braced for impact.

The driver of the pick-up truck and the drivers of all the cars lined up behind him couldn’t see what I saw. If they had, I don’t know if they’d have refrained from honking their horns at me or not. But I’m glad that’s all any of us had to endure, just some horn honking. No one ran into anyone’s bumper.

What caused me to stop suddenly at an intersection with a green light? One of these:

The Telegraph

Like this little guy, only smaller and cuter
(The Telegraph)

In the middle of this:

Not quite as busy as this (National Geographic

Not quite as busy as this
(National Geographic)

The kitten came from the median to my left and ran in front of me. I braked and lost sight of it as it disappeared squarely under my front bumper.

While I waited for the impact coming from the truck behind me I started planning how to jump out and get the kitten from under my car. I didn’t know whether I could do it without someone running me over, and I didn’t know how to do it without spooking the kitten back into traffic.

As I was about to shove the gearstick into park and reach for the door handle I looked to my right. There was the kitten, scurrying to the sidewalk and into the shrubs bordering an office park.

I took my foot off the brake and drove on. The whole thing lasted about 10 seconds. I don’t know what the people behind me were thinking.

***

“Watch it! You stepped on my foot.”

“Sorry. Why’d you stop?”

“Everybody stopped. Don’t know what’s going on.”

“Maybe it’s because of that woman who just went by. She didn’t look too good. She moved pretty fast for a sick woman though. Maybe she wanted to get close to him. Can you see him?”

“He’s up there.”

“Did you hear that? He asked who touched him. Everybody’s touching everybody in this crowd.”

“It’s the woman.”

“The sick woman? What does she want? Doesn’t she know he’s going to Jairus’ house?”

“I don’t think she stopped him. It’s more like he stopped for her.”

“What’s he saying now?”

“Something about her having faith and being healed. And being his ‘daughter’? She’s old enough to be his mother.”

“She looks better now than before, anyway.”

“Lots better. Well, she’s gone now. Looks like he’s going on to see Jairus’ daughter. Hope he can do something for that poor little girl.”

***

While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. (Mark 5:35-36, 41-42.)

***

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I Wished For A Dragon (and got one)

My fourth grade class took a field trip into Chinatown. Our guide was well-suited for a bunch of nine year olds, starting off by telling us to keep our eyes peeled for a dragon. Not any old dragon, of course. Chinatown is full of dragons. No, this one would be golden, lying down with a ball in its claw. A special prize awaited whoever found the dragon first.

We all started looking around immediately, and one kid shouted “There it is!”

He was pointing at a picture of a green dragon standing on its hind feet with no ball in sight.

At our next stop the guide told us that there was a magical statue just inside the door; if you rubbed it and made a wish, your wish would come true. Everyone rubbed it on the way in. My wish? To be the first to find the dragon.

Not the dragon I was looking for  (Wikimedia)

Not the dragon I was looking for
(Wikimedia)

Our last stop took us into a little shop. We filed to the front and everyone kept their eyes on our guide as he explained something else unique to Chinatown. For some reason, though, I turned to look behind us.

“I see it! I see the dragon,” I said. It wasn’t a picture, but a statue about 8 feet long underneath one of the windows. Golden, lying on its stomach, a gold ball in its claw.

My wish came true. I haven’t the foggiest recollection what I ended up winning.

Best Wishes

I’m careful about wishes. I don’t make them and I try not to use the word even as an expression. God isn’t a God of wishes but of hope.

But does that mean wishes aren’t real? It depends on what you mean by wishes.

If what you mean is that a nine year old boy who’s fairly observant and whose attention is focused on a goal might be able to spot the dragon before his classmates, and that his abilities and efforts and desires find their expression in a wish, then yes I think wishes have some substance.

Or if what you mean is that there is some sort of benign magic that comes into play, like a magical statue or a Fairy Godmother, I’m not so sure.

Harry Houdini - illusionist and escape artist, not a magician (Wikimedia)

Harry Houdini – illusionist and escape artist, not a magician
(Wikimedia)

But if what you mean is that sometimes things happen for purposes beyond our ken, then I think you’re really on to something. Magicians – not stage illusionists but people who truly believe in calling up spirits and employing the supernatural – are delving into something as real as the food I had for breakfast.

“Do not believe every spirit,” John tells his friends, “but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” (1 John 4:1.) C.S. Lewis must have had that in mind when he wrote the dialog between his hero Ransom and the antagonist Weston in Perelandra:

“Look here,” said Ransom, “one wants to be careful about this sort of thing. There are spirits and spirits you know.”

“Eh?” said Weston. “What are you talking about.”

“I mean a thing might be a spirit and not good for you.”

“But I thought you agreed that Spirit was the good – the end of the whole process. I thought you religious people were all out for spirituality. What is the point of asceticism – fasts and celibacy and all that? Didn’t we agree that God is a spirit? Don’t you worship him because he is pure spirit?”

“Good heavens, no! We worship him because he is wise and good. There’s nothing specially fine about simply being a spirit. The Devil is a spirit.”

A Wish By Any Other Name

I don’t think that every time someone says “I wish …” they’re calling upon Satan’s powers, consciously or unconsciously. But to use the phrase does indicate a certain understanding about God. Or perhaps a misunderstanding.

You see, when we say we put our hope in God we are not saying we wish everything will turn out right. We are saying that we trust him.

We wait in hope for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
    even as we put our hope in you. (Psalm 33:20-22.)

The psalmist isn’t saying he hopes God is big enough and powerful enough and loving enough to help. He’s saying that God already is all those and more, and that’s why it is right to put our hope in him.

Hope: it’s not a matter of wishing for something to be true, but trusting the One who is true.

That’s better than a wish-granting statue.

***

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Actually, I want to be religious … very, very religious

People like to proclaim they aren’t religious. Like these folks:

I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious. This person might like the idea of being spiritual but they don’t want the trappings of religion, all those rules and having to subscribe to a set of beliefs. Unmitigated spirituality is what they crave. What that means is tough to define but they know they want it to be free of religion, whatever religion itself is.

I’m not religious, I just try to be a good person. Good luck with that. Not the part about not being religious; that’s a subjective matter that just about everyone else will let you measure your own success on. When it comes to trying to be good, though, the whole world is ready and oh-so-willing to judge your success. There aren’t many people who’ll measure up to that judgment.

Person 3: Christianity’s not a religion, it’s a relationship. These folks usually mean that salvation is not found through religion, but through Jesus himself. I agree. But the Bible never says there is no religion for those who are in a right relationship with Christ. It says quite the opposite, in fact:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27.)

Religion that is pure and faultless? Yes there is such a thing, and it is part of being a Christian. It actually sounds pretty good to me, too. In this religion we get to help people who need help (like widows and orphans, but I imagine those are merely exemplars for James’ purposes), and we get to stay away from the things that don’t help at all (things that get in the way of our relationship with our heavenly Father).

The great part about religion in Christ is that we don’t do it in order to earn God’s favor, but we get to do it now that God has already given us his favor because of what Jesus has done for us.

So let me ask you: how do you feel now about being religious?

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Women are Needy, Fearful and Full of Feelings? Good Thing Men Are Around!

There are a pair of blog posts over at Reformed Baptist Fellowship styled as catechisms, one for Christian wives and the other for Christian husbands. They aren’t really catechisms, but more lists of advice. There are glimmers of helpfulness in them, but for the most part they are awful. Simply awful.

One main problem is that these aren’t really catechisms, and to call them such gives them an air of authority that is just not there. As Patricia Hunt said, this pair of posts “offers no scriptural proofs with his ‘catechism’? Catechisms are for doctrine, doctrine rests on scripture.” There is no scriptural support for any statement in the posts. None.

An even bigger problem is that the writer, a Reformed Baptist pastor, premises the whole thing on faulty doctrine. In the preamble to each post he writes that his purpose is to help people who find themselves in difficult marriages to non-Christians, particularly those marriages where the spouse is “especially ungodly.”

That’s a huge doctrinal mistake. There is no relative degree of godliness or ungodliness for those who do not belong to Christ. The only godliness possible is in those who have the spirit of Christ within them. (Romans 8:9-10.) It is part of the faith that every one who belongs to Jesus has been given (Ephesians 2:8-9), and without this faith it is impossible to please God. (Hebrews 11:6.)

This is Reformed Doctrine 101, and I can’t imagine this pastor being so mistaken on it not once but in both blog posts. The real problem though is that this premise leads the reader to think that all which follows in these “catechisms” is to be measured by how much ungodliness is in the unbelieving spouse, rather than guiding the reader to an understanding that the unbelieving spouse – being without the Spirit – is completely unable to understand the relationship the Christian wife or husband has with God. (1 Corinthians 2:14.)

The posts continue to fail on practical as well as doctrinal grounds repeatedly.

Mistreated Spouses Get Better Than They Deserve?

Take questions 11 and 12 in each post. (I’ll quote the one directed to women. He wrote the identical advice to men, just switching the spousal roles.)

Q11.    How good a husband is my husband to me?

A11.    Much better than I deserve, and therefore I will thank God for him every day.

Q12.    How good a wife am I to my husband?

A12.    Much worse than I ought to be, and therefore I will confess my sins to God every day, asking forgiveness, and to my husband as needed, and continue in prayer for grace to grow into the excellent wife that God wants me to be, and that would be such a blessing to my husband.

If interpreted to mean that all of us deserve death for our sins and therefor anything we receive short of that is more than we deserve, then I suppose he might have some scriptural basis for this. But in the context of two posts on marriage relationships, that interpretation just doesn’t hold up. No, these points are in the context of how people treat one another.

That’s where one of the real big problems comes in, as many commenters to the posts there have shown. He tells women that this advice is a blessing worthy of memorization that will help them in difficult marriages. He then admonishes them that even if this advice does not actually help their “difficult marriage” their husbands are still treating them better than they deserve.

This pastor completely ignores the fact that many people are not treated better than they deserve by their spouses. They are married to people who hurt them. You would think that someone charged with pastoral care of God’s people would know that and write marital advice accordingly.

Women are Needy, Fearful and Full of Feelings!

The post for husbands also includes this point:

Q6.      What is it to live with my wife in an understanding way?

A6.      It is to show her honor as the weaker vessel, being sensitive to her needs, fears, and feelings; to nourish and cherish her with the love and affection of Christ.

This is yet another point where the writer’s blending of a Bible verse with his own take on women and men is conflated in a manner contrary to the meaning of that verse. It looks like he is starting from the biblical instruction that husbands are to treat wives “with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life” (1 Peter 3:7). He then puts his own gloss on the word weakness, identifying it as the wife’s “needs, fears, and feelings.”

How he went from Peter’s use of the word “weaker” to identifying the weakness as wives having fears and needs and feelings reveals more about his view of women culturally than scripturally, because the Bible does not say women are fearful or needy or full of feelings in ways that men don’t share.

As one commenter to the post on these “catechisms” at Spiritual Sounding Board pointed out the sexist nature of the pastor’s advice:

Women aren’t the only ones who can be afraid, needy, and insecure. I’ve known plenty of men who had those characteristics.

I have too. Does that mean the husband is the weaker partner in those marriages? How could he be if the pastor is correct in his reading of 1 Peter 3:7? No, the real answer is that there is no inherently weaker partner in a marriage merely by virtue of which one has a Y chromosome. The original Greek just won’t allow that understanding to hold up.

So here’s my advice to married people, and to everyone else too:

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10.)

and

… whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31.)

The rest is merely details.

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Caffeinated Reading – as explained by C.S. Lewis

Words to live by. And read by.

You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.

C.S. Lewis

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