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Monthly Archives: January 2011

God’s clear word, “You – follow me”, Christian nations, etc.

Sometimes all kinds of seemingly disparate thoughts come together…

I’ve been reflecting on (regretting?) the latest series of posts I did (We are all antinomians now), spurred on by Shane Rosenthal (of the White Horse Inn) talking a bit about the Sermon on the Mount in this program (where he discussed Bill O’Reilly’s and Stephen Colbert’s use of the Bible).

To say that the Christian lives in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount is not incorrect.  This is not a situation where Jesus shared a very particular word needed by a particular person – as He did when, for example, He told the rich young ruler to “sell all he has” and “give it to the poor”.  The Sermon on the Mount is for His disciples then, as well as each of us now.  In addition, although if may be true that one of the sermon’s main purposes is to drive the law home to us (law to the nth degree – it’s unkeepable!) so that we might see our sin (Rom. 3:20) and flee to Christ in whom there is forgiveness, the sermon also has been (and needs to be) taken seriously as a description of what the Christian life – our life lived in Christ – looks like.   In other words, it is the life that God gives us in Christ as a gift, in which we live not to effect but reflect our relationship with Him (we are the light of the world to!)

I re-read it yesterday morning.  It is very jarring stuff.  For example, the hyperbolic passages about cutting off one’s hand to avoid sin!  Even more so the part about not resisting an evil person: turning the other cheek when hit, giving them your cloak (in addition to the tunic they take by suing you), walking 2 miles when forced to walk 1, etc.   Of course, then it goes right on to talk about being perfect – by loving one’s enemies as God does (and He did not resist…)!  Then it talks about how if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven – basically the postscript to the Lord’s prayer!

Wow.  Tough stuff – stuff none of us can do but are yet called to do.

There’s much more of course, including the part about taking the plank out of one’s own eye…  This one really is critical to the series of posts I linked to above – am I eager to do this?  Probably not like I should be…  Therefore again: repent!  I do want my life to be built on the rock of these teachings, even as ultimately, He Himself is the Rock of Ages in which I hide (cleft for me!)  In, with, and through Him, even these difficult Words are Spirit and life.

I also experienced a bit of a stream of consciousness as I  listening to the show… we modern Christians of the West mostly believe (rightly, I think) that it is not good for Christian rulers to impose the full Law of God on their subjects (even if they are voted in by a majority).  Of course, there will be general prohibitions rulers make that are in line with and reflect the Law of God (like vs killing, stealing, protection of property, etc. – this is the Law as a “curb”), but we see the main function of the state as preserving earthly peace, order, and justice (for the weak) for all people, as Paul says in Romans 13.

Can you imagine what a truly Christian nation would look like (well, I guess we had these a 1000-some years ago)?  Really, could you imagine a Christian ruler saying “we must not resist the evil persons who are trying to take us over – we must ‘kill them with kindness’, and ‘heap burning coals on their heads’… lay down your arms and give them more than what they want!”  Just like Jesus says, right?  Obviously, a truly Christian nation would not last very long if it ever really existed, right?

But then again, would this be the truly Christian thing to do?  Think about this also: children are to obey their parents and wives to submit to their husbands.  So, what about the father who insists that he and his family not defend themselves?  It’s conceivable that in some court cases for example (Paul: why not allow yourselves to be cheated?), this may not be terrible.  But what about that father who, in the name of Christ, does not fight the intruder in his home who means to harm, even kill, his family  – but rather insists none of them resist – even when he has the power to put up a good fight?  This may not necessarily be cowardice, but is this really Christian?  (likewise, obviously a father of young children who was eager to be martyred – and actually sought it out – [not a problem these days, but in the past it may well have been, as many, wrongly, sought out martyrdom] would need to be confronted as well)

It seems to me that, in a sense, all of this really does need to come down to the importance of God’s work in each individual person – Jesus saying to each one of us, “Don’t worry about them – you, follow me”.   Instead of forcing people to abide by God’s amazing (incomprehensible?) commands like these, it would be better for the Christian fathers (and mothers) to try to form people with the Word who would be eager to speak the Word of the Gospel while giving of their possessions, making personal sacrifices, and even freely giving their *own* lives – even as they are willing to fight to the death (physically) to defend the lives of their neighbors (think soldiers).  But certainly, it takes time for Christians to mature into people like these: there is a time when children must only be defended.

But now: what are the implications of this kind of sacrificial behavior?  Indeed, for those who feel this call to not resist in the Name of Christ – the Church needs to be willing to stand by to help!  Not easy.  Or do we, nervous of monasticism, “works”, and legalism, deny that this is really what Christians have been called to?

(In which case, Read more about antinomianism)

Postscript on “Christian Nations”:

So, all this said, this does not mean Christians should be eager to create “Christian nations”.  Still, I think there is something to be said about nations that are built largely according to Christian principles, that derive from the Christian consciousness (even as the Church does well to keep distinct from the state!).  Part of this consciousness involves the idea that God respects individual persons’ freedom to resist Him (we get what we want), and it only seems right and fair that Christians should be able to resist other religions as well.  Hence, to be fair, people should be free to resist all particular religions, even as, when it comes to general matters of personal freedom and sensible governance (including justice), we try to persuade them (civilly) through Natural Law argumentation (while making it clear we are, in fact, Christians), which does not preclude talking about the very real felt human consensus about a general Deity(s)/Divine Nature that inhabits (and is responsible for!) the cosmos.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

We are all antinomians now (except the babies) (part V of V)

NOTE: Sorry this was not posted on Friday as promised (I am not a Promise Keeper I am afraid)…

In previous posts (see parts I, II, III, IV) I have been arguing that the Church must find a way to preach the grace of God while it also attempts to judge those within the church – so that there would not be a hint of immorality, impurity, or greed within it.

Yes, life is complicated.  Yes there are gray areas.  Yes, since we are not Christ, there are situations in where we must choose between the “lesser of the two evils”, where one sin need be chosen over another (no room for casuistry – loopholes in God’s Law – here).  And yet – must we not face the fact that the Church has lost its nerve?  Although God’s Law is the only consistent moral framework that exists which enables us to grow in our relationships with God and one another – albeit only when empowered by and freed by the Gospel of grace – have we not come to doubt just this?  Are we not antinomians all?   Must we not repent?  Eagerly take the planks out of your own eye and do the work of disciplining the flock?  If so, no doubt, parishioners may not like this at first, but when they see that pastors are not only eager to stick with them – and to be corrected themselves – perhaps the saltiness that we need may be restored.  How would it become salty again?  Only through Jesus Christ – Who embodies the Law and Gospel of the Most High God, and renews saltiness where and when He pleases.

I do not know what Philip Yancey would say to me, but I imagine he might think that my time would be better spent “getting on with the task of creating a just society” (204).  Would my time not be best spent aiming to do this, instead of [perhaps] nit-picking my brothers in the church?

I can only respond that I want to be truly eager to make a difference in the lives of the individuals that God throws in my path – and maybe even do some concrete planning and initiatives to help others (read this if you doubt me).  And yet, when I first became a dad, I admit I had a new sense of calling: of all the things I could be doing in the world to share Christ, here was one responsibility I was certain about: I was this boy’s father, and was to provide for his every needs (particularly spiritual but otherwise as well).  Multiply that 4 boys over, and my wife and I often feel like we’ve got our hands full.  Paul says that Christians, unlike pagans, are to take care of their own families and relatives – and I think that after my own family’s needs I best be concerned with those of my immediate spiritual family as well (he does speak of loving all men, but starting with the Church) – though also here I have failed miserably to be the brother I ought to be to them.

I begin this series talking about my re-reading Philip Yancey’s challenging book “What’s so Amazing About Grace?“.  Interestingly, even as the focus of his book is about the Church dispensing grace, the following line sticks out to me as significant: “The Apostle Paul had much to say about the immorality of individual church members but little to say about the immorality of Rome…” (235, 236)  Sometimes, contra a man who Yancey quotes favorably in his book, we cannot “trust” persons without “judging them” (171) – at least, not in ways they might desire us to.  Yancey’s book speaks winsomely and powerfully about grace, but I leave you with these parts because, of course, because our knowledge of God’s grace is directly proportional to our knowledge of God’s Law.  Yancey does quote J. Gresham Machem: “A low view of law leads to legalism in religion ; a high view makes one a seeker after grace” (210).

I know, I know – despite all my attempts to capture joy, grace and be thoughtfully nuanced – I no doubt still sound like a self-righteous legalist to many (to my own ears also!).  And yes – in case you are wondering – I am not a pastor and have no pastoral experience.  Is it true that I am mired in an unrepentant legalism?  Or am I right that we are all frogs, being boiled slowly – that we are all [becoming] antinomians now?  Please help me see where I am going off the rails…

Yet must I not be bold?  Should I not imitate Paul (as he urges me to) as Paul imitates Christ?  How can I not?  How can we not?  How can we do otherwise?  Please tell me…

May we act in godly wisdom in these matters.

Read more about antinomianism.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

We are all antinomians now (except the babies) (part IV of V)

Yesterday (see parts I and II as well), I gave some advice about how we should go about confronting the sins that beset our churches, so as align with Paul’s statement that there must not be a hint of immorality, impurity, or greed among the Church.

But does this not mean we are going to become legalists?  What happens to that natural-feeling love relationship that we have with Jesus?  It is still natural, but do not only think of this love relationship in Song of Solomon terms, but in Father-Son terms.  Let me allow Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace? to help us out a bit again:

“Consider… a person who wishes to send a message to the President of the United States.  Any citizen may write the President, or send a telegram or e-mail message.  But even if she traveled to Washington D.C. and stood in line with the tourists at the white House, she would not expect to gain a personal appointment with the President.  Though she may speak to a secretary or with her Senator’s help arrange a meeting with a cabinet official, no ordinary citizen expects to e able to barge into the Oval Office and present a petition.  Government runs by hierarchy, setting apart its highest officials according to strict protocol.  Similarly, in the Old Testament a ladder of hierarchy separated people from their God, this one based not on prestige but on “cleanness” or “holiness”…

Earlier, I drew a parallel of a visitor in the White House.  No such visitor, I said, could expect to barge into the Oval Office to see the President without an appointment.  There are exceptions.  During John F. Kennedy’s administration, photographers sometimes captured a winsome scene.  Seated around the President’s desk in gray suits, cabinet members are debating matters of world consequence, such as the Cuban missile crisis.  Meanwhile, a toddler, the two-year-old John-John, crawls atop the huge Presidential desk, oblivious to White House protocol and the weighty matters of state.  John-John was simply visiting his daddy, and sometimes to his father’s delight he would wander into the Oval Office with nary a knock.

That is the kind of shocking accessibility conveyed in Jesus’ word Abba.  God may be the Sovereign Lord of the Universe, but though his Son, God hads made himself as approachable as any doting human father.” (150, 157)

I think Yancey does a marvelous job of bringing out the joy and peace that can be found in God through Christ and His tender love and mercy: the father-son image drawn here is particularly powerful: if this can be true in the presence of a powerful earthly father, how much more is it true about our heavenly father?

There is another aspect to this father-son relationship though.  When dad, who knows better, speaks, we listen.   That’s it.  This does not mean there is not love – or that there is not the aspect of the Husband-bride relationship either.  It just means that love sometimes takes very tough forms.  He has our best interests in mind – as well as the other children He loves.

It is one of the ways that we get to know God better.  He disciplines those He loves.

Part V will be later today…

(Read more about antinomianism.)

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

We are all antinomians now (except the babies) (part III of V)

Yesterday (see here for the day before yesterday), I argued that the Church is to progress in holiness, and that often times when we say we are “putting the best construction on things” we use this as a cover for not confronting people when we should.

I note that in Hosea, we see that what sets God apart – what makes Him Holy – is that He is filled with compassion for His people (and enemies).  And, truly, love is patient.  Yes, perhaps – just perhaps – in some circumstances pastors may deal with, it is conceivable that one could argue they are showing love when they refuse to say, “So and so, I am concerned about….”, or something even stronger.   But again – let’s be honest – in many cases, there is no way that this helps the neighbor.  Sin comes naturally for all of us, and so when the neighbor, in the Church but perhaps out of it as well, sees these things (like persons living together without marriage) happen around him, he will – unless he has someone around him who is able to help he see and realize otherwise – assume that what he sees is simply normal, and that there is nothing wrong with these things at all.  And then we are surprised when we get this!  (or are we – and if we are not surprised, should we not be at least gravely troubled by this?)  And this is why we must be patient in a different way – that is, be patient for people to come to repentance after we confront them – continuously and eagerly seeking them out, like the father in Luke 15.  Anything less is, quite frankly, cowardice.  It’s not always about “me” or “us” – there is always a wider context.  We aren’t free to destroy our brothers.

Another objection: “But I don’t want to single out sins!”

Then don’t.

First of all, by the power of God’s grace, show people that you are eager to have your own sins confronted – even if they do so not for your good, but in anger or retaliation.  Be earnest in the Word and prayer as you prepare for your bones to be broken that they might be mended.  Regarding sins of omission that may be brought up, remember that sometimes not loving in a certain way is indeed a sin (think of the Good Samaritan here) while other times God gives us a variety of ways that we may show love.  But if you have any doubts at all whether you have wronged someone, remember Walther wisely said, “small sins become big sins when regarded as small” – so error on the side of confessing sins.  Also remember that though gross public sins need to be confronted publicly, minor “public sins” or even “private sins” are no less serious before God.  When we are confronted about these, there is no plan B – repentance is it.  Christians know no other way.

Second, speak from the pulpit about being “set apart” and what this means (see above).

Third, make a valuable distinction.  While sins such as immodesty, cursing, greed, and drunkenness are not disputable or indifferent matters, it is at least conceivable that in some circumstances (not all) what really constitutes these things is.  In other words, these things may be like Romans 14:3 issues.  Although we all long for consistent principles and standards, fallen human beings cannot always determine with precision what constitutes, for instance, a good and salutary imbibing of alcohol, partaken of in Gospel freedom to the genuine harm of no one, as opposed to sinful drunkenness.  So find creative ways (perhaps through older women in the congregation you and others love and trust) to confront the parents of daughters who wear inappropriate clothing – lovingly.   Confront the baby-boomer parents who do the same – thoughtfully.  Confront persons about their slothfulness, their screen-time, their lack of family dinner-time – sensitively.  At the same time, sometimes things seem pretty clear to most everyone: for example, while speaking often about greed in general terms, confront situations where many believe that greed has been manifested, such as the case where one has overcharged or robbed one’s employees (being hesitant to confront all greed you or others perceive, since there is no model in the New Testament for such confrontation, and one may be rich without necessarily being greedy).

Fourth, regarding the confrontation of public sin, write a pamphlet (and mention it often it at appropriate times) that talks about common public sins and assures your congregation that although these may not be dealt with publicly (i.e. public shame), they are dealt with privately, and pastoral discipline does occur in the church.

Fifth, confront gross public sins personally: Confront the person who justifies leaving their non-adulterous spouse because the “relationship has already died”.  Confront those who regularly miss church.  Confront the alcoholic who justifies himself.  Confront the spouse or father who is violent.  Confront the couple who is living together.  Do not tolerate unrepentant swindling, slandering, and homosexual activity – for your people were once swindlers, slanders and homosexuals – but no more.  In all of this, don’t forget to offer your prayers and help – or to find others who can help, for the pastor can’t do it all (as we bear each others burdens).  You don’t need to assume that just because they respond unfavorably right away that they are not Christians.  Remember those crazy Corinthians.  Even when Paul hands a man “over to Satan” he does not insist that the man is not a Christian – he speaks of specific persons “falling away” only when he mentions certain colleagues who’ve abandoned him.  Give them time – and when they repent, always be eager to forgive (and let them commune again).

“Or maybe…”, someone says, “you will no longer have a Church”.  Possibly.  But what kind of a Church is it that has no zeal for God’s Law – to know it and to uphold it?  Has not such a Church ceased to know the Gospel as well?  From what, ultimately, have we been saved?  Sin, or the Law of God?  We have been freed from the Law, and are no longer under the Law.  But we have not been saved from the Law, for this we uphold and fulfill in Christ (Romans 8:4).

There must not be a hint of immorality, impurity, or greed among you, Paul says (Eph. 5:3).  Yes, he really said that and meant just that – Paul’s intention is not only to reveal our sin here (as in Romans 1-3), but to call us to shine, so that it is only the cross of Christ which is the stumbling block.  And we wonder why the Church seems so ineffective… (see here for some thought-provoking stuff to)

Continued tomorrow…

(Read more about antinomianism.)

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

We are all antinomians now (except the babies) (part II of V)

Yesterday, I quoted Philip Yancey at length, and asked how his concerns that the Church dispense grace and Paul’s admonition to “judge those within the church” could both be addressed.

First, here are some more salient bits from Yancey’s amazing book:

  • “You can know the law by heart without knowing the heart of it” (195)
  • “The proof of spiritual maturity is not how “pure” you are but awareness of your impurity.  That very awareness opens the door to grace” (198)
  • “Forgiveness is our problem, not God’s.  What we have to go through to commit sin distances us from God – we change in the very act of rebellion – and there is no guarantee we will ever come back.  You ask me about forgiveness now [as in: “Will God forgive me for what I’m about to do, namely leave my wife for another”], but will you even want it later, especially if it involves repentance?” (180)
  • “The solution of sin is not to impose an ever-stricter code of behavior.  It is to know God.” (210)

And yet, all this said, let’s get real about what Paul speaks of.

Without a doubt, we need Christians to be zealous for the Law of God, for by faith, we uphold the Law – even as we are not under it.  We need Christians who are eager to flee from sin and temptation, and who are eager to share the Gospel and do good works.  We need Christians who, in their heart of hearts, are eager to be corrected – for old attitudes and behaviors to give way, and for new ways of being and doing to be realized, imagined, and put into practice (“actualized”).   We need Christians, who, for the sake of their neighbor, are eager that there even be no appearance of unrighteousness – and are eager to be corrected even here!  And we need Christians who do all of this because of the great joy and love that wells up from within them – so that those who call them “prudes”, “Pharisees”, or  “Puritans” will clearly be seen to be speaking slander (I Peter 3:15).  And we need preachers who are bold enough to say this – to  do “tough love” this way – and can take the flack for being “legalistic”.

And yes, at bottom, we do not need more rules, but we need to know God better (see Ephesians 1: 15-23, and 3:14-21).  This is the answer.

Objection 1: “Don’t tell me I’m getting better every day in every way – I’m not.”  No, you are – although it is good that you yourself don’t see it when you look inside.  Paul tells Timothy we should be eager for everyone to “see our progress”, and we are to imitate Paul, as he says.  Progress?  Yes.  Without a doubt.  When you look inside your own heart, you rightly see only your sin, but in faith, you believe by the grace of God that He is doing good work in you – that  though you are a sinner-saint, saint is your true and ultimate identity (Jesus is only the friend of sinners, who are saints with in, with, and through Him), and you really are growing in grace.  If you don’t believe this is true, you are not trusting God’s promises – period.  Repent.  Certainly, this struggle against sin won’t stop until the grave, but to deny that there are ever “victories” in the Christian life is nonsense.  It is un-Christian/Lutheran.

Objection 2: “But aren’t most pastors already doing this?  Should you not be putting the best construction on everything?”  No and yes.  Regarding the “yes” (the rationale for the “no” will become clear as we go on in this series), it is well said.  But consider this analogy: when you notice a young woman who gets 2 black eyes over the course of a few months, you are negligent if you do not challenge her when she insists she keeps falling.  Likewise, when you excuse the couple who lives together, consoling yourself that you have told them “Well, just as long as you realize that God’s ideal is marriage and you guys should not have sexual relations”, you need a reality check.  No, you should be praying earnestly that they would flee both temptation and the appearances of evil – that they might not cause their brother to stumble (and these are not even indifferent matters). And not only this, but you should take action to have them get married (offer to do it right then and there) or separate from one another right away – not necessarily for their own salvation’s sake (this to could be a danger to if they really are tempted, and give in repeatedly such that they eventually no have a desire to ask God for forgiveness for what has become a common practice for them) but so that they do not make either weak believers or non-Christians think that living together just like a married couple would is OK.  Even if some really can embrace chastity in such an arrangement, others may not be able to imagine this.

To be continued….

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Posted by on January 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

We are all antinomians now (except the babies) (part I of V)

Jumping off of this post

For what have I to do with judging outsiders?  Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? –I Cor. 5:12

There must not be a hint of immorality, impurity, or greed among you –Eph. 5:3

“Surreal… I never would have thought…”   “No, what I am seeing can’t be an indicator that we are straying from what the Church should be – the people here are so nice.”  “I must be being legalistic – isn’t there something pastor has called ‘adiaphora’”?

“Yes, it really must be me: the Emperor is fully clothed, is he not?”

Or not.

I note that babies know kindness and goodness when they see it.  There is no moral ambiguity. Their ability to not waver in their judgment of what they do know should be a lesson to us (of course, while we are to imitate their faith wholesale, their sense of right and wrong is by no means our exemplar, being as undeveloped as it is)

We need holiness.  The Church is indeed holy in Christ’s eyes, but there is also a need for His holiness to permeate and penetrate the deepest part of our being.  That we may increase in holiness.  That we may grow in grace.  That we may be a people set apart.  And this holiness that becomes ours with Christ is not necessary for our salvation – in the sense our doing something makes us able to stand before God – but it is necessary nonetheless, because it is what He would have us be and do for the sake of our neighbor.  In other words He gives us His holiness so that fewer and fewer nations would blaspheme God because of us.  So that we would put up no block of stumbling save the Cornerstone.  So that we may shine like stars, as Philippians 2 says.  So that He might share His love and kindness with all people, including His enemies.

Wait, wait, wait.  Is not your focus off here?  Christianity is primarily about God’s rescuing us, not our behavior!  After all, where else but the Church can persons get forgiveness from God?  I listen attentively here.  Years ago, I was told by a Lutheran pastor I respected very much that every LC-MS pastor should read evangelical author Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace? every year – because the message he had was needed in the church.  Have I forgotten?

It is a good and challenging book.  Given my chosen topic here, here’s a particularly relevant passage where he, in effect, reminds us that the opposite of sin is not our virtue, but God’s grace:

Jesus’ example convicts me today…. As society unravels and immorality increases I hear calls from some Christians that we show less mercy and more morality…

A phrase used by both Peter and Paul has become one of my favorite images from the New Testament.  We are to administer, or “dispense,” God’s grace, say the two apostles.  the image brings to mind one of the old-fashioned “atomizers” women used before the perfection of spray technology.  Squeeze a rubber bulb, and droplets of perfume come shooting out of the fine holes at the other end.  A few drops suffice for a whole body; a few pumps can change the atmosphere in a room.  This is how grace should work, I think.  It does not convert the entire world or an entire society, but it does enrich the atmosphere.

Now I worry that the prevailing image of Christians has changed from that of a perfume atomizer to a different spray apparatus: the kind used by insect exterminators. There’s a roach!  Pump, spray, pump, spray.  There’s a spot of evil! Pump, spray, pump, spray. Some Christians I know have taken on the task of “moral exterminator” for the evil-infested society around them

I share a deep concern for our society. I am struck, though, by the alternative power of mercy as demonstrated by Jesus, who came for the sick and not the well, for the sinners and not the righteous. Jesus never countenanced evil, but he did stand ready to forgive it. Somehow, he gained the reputation as a lover of sinners, a reputation that his followers are in danger of losing today. As Dorothy Day put it, “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.” (157, 158, 1997)

Writing from a racist fundamentalist background, Yancey gives us much that is good to think about, particularly when it comes to Christians and their involvement in wider society and politics.

And yet, we forge forward.  How can Yancey’s and the Apostle’s concerns both be addressed?

See part II tomorrow…

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Posted by on January 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

 
 
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