The Value of a Mother

11 05 2014

This Sunday most of us will be celebrating our mothers.  Churches will give flowers to moms and gifts to the oldest and youngest mothers.  Families will gather together for dinner, and some Moms will actually get a day off, or at least one meal!

What will you be doing for Mother’s Day?  If you still have your mom, I hope you will be spending time with her or at least, if she doesn’t live close by, that you will speak to her by telephone.  By the way, you probably still have time to get a card in the mail!  Very few weeks go by when I don’t think about telephoning my mother to update her on our lives, my kids, etc.  Then I remember that she is in heaven and that my cell phone doesn’t reach that far. 

Mom wasn’t perfect.  She fell short in some areas but excelled in others.  She worked hard for our family and struggled to please everyone, especially those who were relentlessly hard to please.  Whatever you needed, Mom would do her best to help you, in spite of her pain or fatigue.  Unfortunately, she was unable to please everyone, and that gave her much sadness. 

Historically, many Mother’s Day sermons have used Proverbs 31 as their text, extolling the virtues of that industrious woman.  Unfortunately, there are only a few of us who actually measure up to the description found in that passage.  (Hint:  I’m not one of them.)  In fact, I would venture that many women dislike that passage because it makes them feel inadequate.  We tend to read this bit of scripture and think that in order to be an effective wife and mother we have to do everything listed there, and if we don’t, we are failures. 

Who wouldn’t want their value to be more than rubies?  Who wouldn’t want her family to cherish her and to “call her blessed”?  We work hard to provide for our family members, but in this fast-paced society, we find ourselves over-scheduled, over-committed, and overworked, with little time for them.  And we still feel like we haven’t achieved all that our ancestor did to earn her a place in the Bible.  

The Apostle Paul told the Colossians:  “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24).  I used to look at this verse and feel ashamed because I wasn’t able to do everything that was laid out in front of me, thinking that God, like others, was disappointed in me.  But then one day, as I read the Bible and prayed, I realized that this verse didn’t bring condemnation but rather freedom from it.  You see, “human masters” might be hard to please, but God knows who we are and what we are able to do in the situation where he has placed us. 

Likewise, when reading Proverbs 31, we read through all of the great things that this woman of faith accomplished but often fail to read all the way through to the end of the passage.  It is there we find the most important way to be a godly woman.  “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (verse 30).

This is where we must find our value, my friends, in the fear of the Lord, in our relationship with God.  It is good to be a hard worker and to accomplish many things, but our value isn’t found in what we accomplish or what we obtain, but in the One whom we worship and serve. 

For those of you who are mothers, have a happy Mother’s Day.  My prayer is that your children will call you blessed for all you do for them, but most of all, my prayer is that you will find comfort and peace in the presence of God in your life.

 





Fresh Start (published in print 12/29/13)

1 03 2014

There’s something about a new year.  It’s a time to start over.  Every year, scores of people wake up on January 1st with high hopes for change in their lives.  Resolutions, from one to many, are posted in various places to remind them of the changes they want to make.  Unfortunately, for most of us, our resolute nature rarely lasts very far into the month of January, let alone the year.

As we face this new year, with its opportunities and challenges, how can we hold fast to our hopes and wishes?  The main question is how you did you make your resolutions.  What things do you want to do?  Have you prayed about your choices, asking God what His plan for your year might be?  We all have hopes, but we need to take time to seek God’s will for our lives. 

Second, it is important to realize that every journey is a compilation of many small steps.  Once you have decided on a resolution, it is best to break down your goal into smaller steps.  Wanting to lose weight?  Setting goals at increments of 5 or 10 pounds at a time will make your goals seem more achievable. 

Third, while you shouldn’t plan for setbacks or failure, you should understand that problems do occur from time to time.  You might have a bad diet day or have to spend some of that money you were trying to save, but don’t let momentary problems cause you to give up on your goals. 

Another suggestion is to find someone to help you on your resolution project.   We are reminded of this in Ecclesiastes.  “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:  If either of them falls down, one can help the other up” (3:9-10).  Find an accountability partner, someone who can help you when you are falling down or who can encourage you when you are ready to give up. 

Most importantly, remember that you are not perfect.  Whatever your goals or resolutions, you will most likely find yourself missing the mark.  The apostle Paul knew about that.  “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  No matter how hard we try, we do fall short of God’s plan for our lives.  In those moments it is imperative to remember that our value isn’t found in what we do, but in what Christ did for us.  “And all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (v. 24).

Paul also knew about frustration.  He struggled with his tendency to do the things that he didn’t want to do but reminded himself that it isn’t in his own strength that he would overcome, but I the grace that comes from God.

“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.  What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:21-25).

By the time you read this article you may have already broken a few of your resolutions, or you might still be holding strong and making changes.  Whatever the case, remember that every minute you breathe and every morning you wake the mercies of the Lord are new once again.  The old adage from the 60s and 70s—Today is the first day of the rest of your life—is true, you know!  No matter how many times you fall short, or how long you succeed, each moment is a new opportunity to overcome with the help of Christ.  Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Do you have a home church?  Have you found a place to worship with like-minded believers? Visit us at Ebenezer Presbyterian.  We have a place for you every Sunday at 11 a.m.

Blessings!





Random Acts of Godliness: Forgiving (published in print 12/20/13)

1 03 2014

It’s Christmas!  Well, actually, by the time you read this article Christmas will be over and some of you will probably have already taken down your Christmas decorations!  But in my home it is still Christmas.  We keep our decorations up until at least January 6th, the feast of Epiphany as well as being the 12th Day of Christmas (according to the song). 

The sad thing about the celebration of Christmas is that it has become a bunch of hype over a single day or day and a half—if you include Christmas Eve—that was originally meant to remind us of the greatest gift we ever received, the gift of the Son of God who would give His life for us that we might receive forgiveness.  You see, if Christmas is just about the baby, then we’ve missed the point.  It is about the same thing as Easter—God who became human and gave His life so we could receive forgiveness. 

Last week I said that an attribute of God was giving, and this week I’m adding a few letters.  God is a FORgiving God.  The Bible is replete with examples of God’s forgiving actions, but to understand that, we need to understand what forgiveness really is.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary says to forgive is to stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong); to stop blaming (someone); to stop feeling anger about (something): to forgive someone for (something wrong); to stop requiring payment of (money that is owed).  It goes on to say that to forgive is to give up resentment of or claim to requital for;  to grant relief from payment of ; to cease to feel resentment against; pardon.

There are several very important verses regarding God’s attribute of forgiving, not the least of which is found in Isaiah 1:18:  “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

Another passage that speaks of God’s forgiving nature is found in Psalm 103:

“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (vv. 8-12).

To further evidence God’s forgiving nature, Jesus related the purpose of His coming this way: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

It is in God’s nature to forgive us, to redeem us, and therefore, once we have received that forgiveness, God expects us to follow through, passing on that forgiveness to others.  (By the way, if you haven’t received forgiveness from God through Jesus Christ, please know that it is available to you and that you can come to speak with me about it anytime!) 

Jesus instructed his followers to forgive.  “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Matthew 11:25).  Jesus expected us to forgive, as Luke records in the Lord’s Prayer:  “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us” (Luke 11:4).

So how do we live with this expectation?  How do we reflect this attribute of our God in our own lives? 

First, we realize that we ourselves are sinful beings who don’t deserve forgiveness or redemption.  It is imperative that we recognize the gift given to us was just that, a free gift by the hand of a gracious, loving God through the Son who gave His life for us.  When we realize how needy we are of forgiveness, the transgressions of others may seem much smaller.

Second, we make a conscious effort to forgive those who have sinned against us.  This is where the hard part lives.  We say, “I’ll forgive, but I won’t forget.”  If that is your attitude, then you haven’t forgiven.  Peter asked Jesus how many times we must forgive, to which Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22).  The King James and New American Standard Versions translate this “seventy times seven.”  In either case, a forgiving attitude, one which is willing to restore the transgressor again and again is a true model of God’s love for us.

Having trouble forgiving?  Ask God for a forgiving spirit then spend time in God’s presence so that you might develop the fruit of the Spirit in your life and be known as one who truly reflects God’s forgiving nature.

 





Random Acts of Godliness: Giving (Published in print 12/15/13)

1 03 2014

‘Tis the season for giving . . . and shopping . . . and crowds . . . and spending!  It is appropriate that we consider this attribute of God’s nature during this season as the genesis of the season comes from the most famous gift ever given. 

From the beginning of the Bible we see God’s giving nature.  When Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree, their eyes were opened and they realized they were naked, that they were not worthy to be in God’s presence.  Even though they had turned aside from God’s plan for them, He still gave to them by making clothing.  “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). 

Humankind became wicked and lived its own way, but Noah found favor in God’s eyes.  God commanded Noah to build an ark, through which he and his family, along with the animals, were saved through the flood.  After the waters receded and Noah and his family landed on dry ground, God once again gave, this time making a covenant with all of humankind. 

“Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.  ‘As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease’” (Genesis 8:21-22).

When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, while they traveled in the wilderness, the people were concerned that they didn’t have food.  Actually, they were whining and grumbling.  God gave them manna in the wilderness.  God gave them water from a rock.  God gave them meat to eat.  God continually gave to His people, even when they rebelled and complained.  (See Exodus).

Throughout its history, the nation of Israel wavered between serving God and serving themselves, and at times they lost ground to enemy nations because of their rebellion.  However, every time the nation turned back to God and repented of their sins, God gave them victory and restored them.  In the midst of one of these times of estrangement and devastation, God gave them another promise:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.  The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this (Isaiah 9:6-7).

This prophecy, among others, put forth the promise of the Messiah, that One would come who would bring glory back to Israel.  God would give again to His people, one who would bring justice to them.

Fast forward several hundred years to a small town in Israel, where an angel appeared to a young woman. 

“But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end’” (Luke 1:30-33).

More than just a king, this child was born to bring much more than political superiority to Israel; he was born to redeem His people, and not only them but all of humankind.  Jesus himself described this gift:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him”  (John 3:16-17).

We didn’t love God.  We didn’t serve God.  We didn’t even want God, but God sent His Son to redeem us.  “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).  Because God is a giver and gave His Son even when we did not love God, how much more should we be givers because of the grace and mercy we have received?

Especially in this Christmas season, when we celebrate the gift of the baby who grew to be our Savior, those of us who call ourselves Christians—ones who belong to Christ—are called to model God’s gift to those who have little, to those who persecute us, to those who have not heard or understood the good news of the gift of Christmas.

May you demonstrate godliness and receive the joy of God’s presence this Christmas season as you practice giving as God has given to you.

Blessings!





Random Acts of Godliness: Love (published in print 12/2/13)

1 03 2014

Today’s attribute can be summarized in three small words:  “God is love.”  But what does it mean that God is love or that God loves us? 

Looking at the definition of the word “love” we might be a little confused about what God’s love might be.  Dictionary.com, defining the word as a verb, says: 

to have love or affection for; to have a profoundly tender, passionate affection for (another person); to have a strong liking for; take great pleasure in; to need or require; benefit greatly from; to embrace and kiss (someone).

God’s love can be seen in these definitions, it is true.  God does have at least an “affection” for us, but it goes so much deeper.  Look at what the Scriptures tell us about God’s love for his people.

When Adam and Eve sinned against God and were required to leave the garden, even then God made a plan for reunion/redemption.  “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”  Even at that point, when his own creation had disappointed and rebelled against him, God made a plan to reunite humankind with himself, speaking of the death of Jesus.

Throughout the Old Testament God spoke of his love for his people Israel, and the proof of his love can be seen in many ways.  God helped them, provided for them, but also chastised them.  You see, love isn’t just a mamby-pamby kind of feeling that just wants the person to be happy.  Love wants the best for the person, always the best, even if getting there might be painful.

So what does it mean to have God’s attribute of love for someone?  First of all, we need to realize that loving someone is much different than liking them or liking what they do.  God’s love is so far above and beyond that.  Second, to love someone, truly love them, is less about me than it is about them.  Our world has distorted the word to make it about me, that loving you is about my pleasure or feelings.  God’s love is about the other, always about the other.

God’s love makes decisions that are for the eventual best for the other person.  We see this with parents and children.  When we make decisions that allow our children to get away with infractions, we are not loving them, but rather we are condemning them to that personality fault by teaching them it is all right to do so.  If we love our children we need to correct them and help them to find a strong character.

While God is at a definite advantage in this way, being able to see the beginning from the end, the consequences from a distance, we can partake in that advantage by having a vital relationship with Christ.  “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (Isaiah 30:21).  Even in our day-to-day lives God has promised to lead us, to enable us to be the people we were created to be.  If we are listening, we will find direction and learn how to love someone else.

When we are lost or not living as we should, the Holy Spirit brings conviction to our hearts.  This is evidence of God’s love for us.  Even if you believe that voice is only your conscience speaking to you, who created the conscience?  Likewise, if we love our friends and neighbors, we will tell the truth:  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ (Ephesians 4:15)

While the context of this verse is Paul speaking about the gift of apostles, teachers, etc., the verse applies to each of us.  If we truly love our friends and family members, we will tell them the truth, in a loving way, of course, so that they will not be stuck in a rut of destruction or sin, but rather be able to break the chains of what is affecting them and move forward into a mature individual.  Note that this is speaking the truth in love, not in self-righteousness or judgment.  That is another discussion.

Another reason for loving our neighbors as God loves us is this:  we are commanded to do so:

“’Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

We are commanded to love our neighbors, those around us, to be a part of wanting the best for them.  If we are daily making decisions in our own lives that help us love God better, we will love others as God loves them, by wanting the best for them, helping them make good decisions, and speaking the truth in love to those in our lives.

Show the attribute of God’s love in your life today! 

Blessings!





Random Acts of Godliness: Gentleness (published in print 11/24/13)

1 03 2014

God’s gentleness is seen throughout the Bible.  In the Old Testament we see it in Isaiah’s description:  “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young” (Isaiah 40:11).  Again, in Isaiah 42:3:  “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice.”

Along with these descriptions, we see God’s gentleness throughout the Bible when, again and again, the people of God turned away, only to come back ashamed and filthy.  In every case God was there to receive His repentant people back and to restore them. 

God is gentle with the frail and weak.  We might ask why only the fail and weak.  However, if we would be honest with one another, like the people of Israel, we are all frail and weak. lacking the strength to do or be anything that would be considered righteous on our own.  It is in that truth that we see God’s gentleness best, when we are unable to attain godliness and God extends His hand of mercy to us.

So what is gentleness?  Is it a passive lack of a response to a wrong?  Is being gentle to be equated with being weak?  Not in any regard!  Gentleness begins from a place of strength; thus God’s gentleness flows out from His great power and strength.  Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology defines gentleness as “sensitivity of disposition and kindness of behavior, founded on strength and prompted by love.”  

In God’s great love for those He created, He reaches out to each one of us as Jesus did with the woman taken in adultery.  Her actions were found out, and she was indeed guilty.  Yet Jesus, with patience and gentleness, saved the woman by shining the light of truth into the hearts of all those who were ready to stone her.  “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).  He didn’t deny her guilt, but exposed the sin of those who were considering themselves righteous.  Then he ministered to her with these words:  “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Gentleness speaks the truth but does not need to be forceful or harsh.  Gentleness understands that true righteousness wins out, just as Jesus’ gentleness allowed Him to suffer and die on the cross for the sake of all creation, even though others jeered and cheered at his death.  Gentleness is compassion given even to those who don’t deserve to receive it.  It is God’s mercy toward us.

So what is our response to the gentleness of God?  Having received God’s mercy in Christ’s sacrifice, having been born again by the Spirit of God into newness of life, we find ourselves in a huge battle.  Our fleshly nature wants to be arrogant and proud that we belong to God, that we are redeemed.  We want to lord our “good fortune” over those who don’t know our Savior and who are living lives of sin.  We don’t want to be gentle. 

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).  We are to answer those who ask about our faith, but to approach those asking in a manner reflecting our Lord’s approach to the one who is lost and the one who has sinned against us.

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 one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. 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).

Our response to others is not to project judgment and condemnation, but rather to reflect the grace and mercy that we have received from God. 

Finally, we need to recognize that gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit of God in our lives:  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).

You see, when we try on our own to be gentle and loving, especially toward those whom we have something against, we regularly fail, oftentimes seeking revenge and justification.  But the gospel response, the gentle response, is one that considers the failings of the weak, even those who do not recognize their own weaknesses.

Pray today and ask God to help you to grow the fruit of gentleness in your life.  Use gentle speech and gentle actions.  Be gentle with those who antagonize you, to those who aggravate you, to those who don’t deserve gentleness, because God in Christ has been gentle to you.

Blessings!





Random Acts of Godliness: Kindness (published in print 11-17-13)

1 03 2014

The next few articles will explore some of the attributes of God and how those attributes are to be reflected in God’s people.  The first we will discuss is kindness.

One might not first think of kindness as an attribute of God.  Powerful, mighty, holy—yes—but kind?  Yet kindness is one of our God’s attributes.   The word translated “kindness” in the Bible is sometimes translated as “goodness,” which gives us a little more understanding into the term.  This is an attribute that sets God apart from the other gods of other faith systems. 

Psalm 145:9 states that “the Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.”   One writer calls this “common grace.”  God is good, offers kindness, to all of creation, even when we are ungrateful and sometimes wicked.  As Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35).

What is true about God’s kindness to us, that he is kind or good to us even when we are not kind or good to Him can be seen in many areas of life.  Even when we feel as if our lives aren’t going the way we hope they will, the kindness of God is evidenced in the things that don’t happen, in the protection we received in the midst of busy-ness:  the car that misses us, the “lucky” moments that just work out, etc.

Finally, God’s kindness is shown in salvation, a free gift given to us through the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus.

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6-7).

You see, the tendency of the human spirit is on of pride, selfishness, and self-will, and in those attributes we had insulted God.  Yet God planned, from the beginning, for our salvation, for our redemption, by sending His Son, Jesus, to pay for our debt.   It was a free gift and cannot be purchased.  God was kind to us.

Because we are God’s children, having received that free gift of salvation from God, we are called to become like God.  We won’t become gods, but we are to reflect that godliness in our lives, showing the transformation that is occurring in us. 

 “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12). 

This isn’t automatic, any less than transformation is automatic.  While God reaches out to us and makes us a new creation spiritually, the process of becoming like God is a long and arduous one, and it is made step by step as we choose to exhibit God’s attributes in our lives.

Jesus said, But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13).  You see, kindness to others is most just action, doing kind things, it is a mindset, a way of thinking that controls and guides our actions. 

We’ve all gone through the motions when dealing with someone we really don’t like or who gets on our nerves.  But godly kindness is so much more than that.  When we are exhibiting kindness to others, it means we are actually looking at them the way God is looking at them.  We are having mercy on them even when they don’t deserve it.

One more caveat:  Don’t think you can do this on your own!  It is impossible for the human being to be kind all the time, for human imitation of God’s kindness naturally.  This is a process that occurs as you allow the Holy Spirit to work in your heart and to dwell within you.   But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).  It is through the working of the Spirit in our lives that we learn to be kind and that kindness becomes a habit that we exhibit regularly.

What acts of kindness have you done recently?  Is there someone in your life who doesn’t deserve your kindness or help, and yet they need it?  Perhaps a coworker, a family member, or a neighbor routinely frustrates you.  This is the true ground of the random act of godliness—reaching out to those who don’t deserve our kindness, just as God reached out to us when we were ignoring God.

As you go through your day today, consider God’s kindness to you and how you can reflect that kindness to others in your life.

Blessings!








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