“Grasping the Gospel” (In an Age of Discount Discipleship)

Part Four: “The Importance of Roots!” 11.5.2018

Matthew 13:1-9 (NIV) “That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop–a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear.’”

This may strike my readers as curious … that I would open a devotional and Christ-centered article with a reference to a very “worldly” song. But I can’t resist. It’s just perfectly suited to this passage. At least I think so. I recently heard country singer Garth Brooks presenting his classic “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places” and the lyric struck me as funny but true. It tells the story of a guy who went to a very fancy party dressed in his casual cowboy clothes. It opens with:

“Blame it all on my roots
I showed up in boots
And ruined your black-tie affair…”

Actually, this line is a theological masterpiece. “Blame it all on my roots!” Jesus spoke of roots. And the problem of bad roots explains discount discipleship. Let’s look closely …

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.”

Surely the word picture is meant to illustrate the sharing of the Gospel. We’ve all seen people who are totally refractory to the Good News of Jesus. They are like sidewalks and the seeds just bounce off. I think our Lord is likening the birds to the evil one who steals away the seeds of salvation before they can take root. Actually, this reminds us that some seed will be wasted in the process of planting a crop. It’s the next illustration that is more unsettling. The person who gets started with Christ but cannot stay in the walk. We’ve all seen this … a reaction to the offer of Christ that is enthusiastic, but the soil is unprepared.

We recently had a re-seeding project in our yard after some excavation work. I was feeling a little lazy, so I didn’t really “work” the soil by softening it and raking and adding in some fresh topsoil. I simply scattered seed and it didn’t take root. But one area did start to respond and quickly. It didn’t last because the soil had no depth. So, the Lord Jesus Christ says:

“Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.”

I’ve often thought of writing a short book about coming to Christ. Its title would be “Do Not Come Quickly to Jesus!” This happens when the warnings are ignored and the Gospel is presented as “Just say these words. Come and be baptized because Jesus really wants to be your friend and all you need to say is ‘Yes! ’”

In the parable the plants were “scorched.” Why? Because they had no depth in the soil. No roots to go down to the water. No strength to withstand the hot sun. They had “no root” … a Greek word that simply means “root!” The part of the plant that goes deep! Discount discipleship has very shallow roots or none. Without deep roots, the disciple will drop away. Or remain lost in worldly living.

The late Charles Colson used to tell a story about a gangster in the fifties named Mickey Cohen. Billy Graham went to California in the nineteen fifties many times. On one visit, the notorious Mr. Cohen met with a Graham associate and went forward to receive Christ. The headlines were fired up! “Gangster says he’s now a Christian!” The believing world rejoiced and many well-wishers contacted Cohen to encourage him in his new way of life.

About a year later, a member of the Graham team met with Cohen and told him there was great concern about his continued lifestyle. He was reputed to be involved in illegal drugs, gambling syndicates and other criminal activity. He was reminded that “Christians do not live that way.” Cohen’s response was stunning. He said: “Well, I see that there are Christian athletes and Christian movie stars and others who are famous. Why can’t I be a Christian gangster?”

That story sounds like fiction but it has been attested by some very reliable people. I suspect that there are some people who think they can trust in Christ without changing their sinful ways. That would be salvation by faith taken to the point of absurdity. They must think that because only faith is required to receive Christ that after salvation there are no expectations from God. To the contrary, God expects us to become more and more like Christ himself! Not to get saved but because we are saved. And that process of sanctification … being made Holy and set apart … that process … will be very hard at times. And the world will not affirm it!

Jesus said the sun will bear down with great heat upon us believers. We will need deep roots to survive the intensity. Simply stated we will need deep roots … because he may have accepted us just as we are but he will not leave us that way.

Next: “Arguing With Jesus!”

Peace. Pastor Alberta

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“Grasping the Gospel” (In an Age of Discount Discipleship)

Part Three: “Counting the Cost”

Matthew 16:24-25 (NIV) “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.’”

Vincent van Gogh lived less than forty years in the nineteenth century. Yet the Dutch artist created more than two thousand works of art. He was a remarkable genius whose life was touched dramatically by an unknown instructor. The late Dr. William Nigel Kerr was a Professor of mine at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. Professor Kerr, an eminent historian, used to tell a fascinating story about Vincent van Gogh. It seems the very young man van Gogh was not always highly motivated. At one point, his instructor addressed the young artist regarding his efforts. He was quoted as saying to him: “You have great talent. But talent is cheap. Dedication is expensive. It will cost you everything you have!”

That statement might be a parallel insight for those considering the Gospel. Such a warning should be offered to everyone about to be baptized or make a fresh prayer commitment to Jesus and his Lordship. If great crowds come forward at a baptism where dozens, even hundreds, are invited to the sacrament, do they understand what they are doing? The event might be beautiful to see but one has to wonder … have they been adequately prepared for that commitment?

In pondering this, I recall the great missionary Adonirum Judson refusing to baptize people until he was certain they understood what following Christ would entail. He would not baptize until the one seeking Christ convinced him that he or she understood what true discipleship meant. Whether it be a prayer of receiving/accepting Jesus or a baptism, that moment must only come if the cost is fully embraced. Put another way … Christianity properly understood requires a willingness to give up … everything! But wait. What does that mean? Must we all take vows of poverty? No. But we must all be willing to pay the price. And the Holy Spirit sets the price!

Discount discipleship is that kind of Christian walk that costs nothing. It confuses salvation by grace with no expectations from God. It seems to think because we cannot save ourselves and must come by faith … that God expects nothing from us in response after we are saved …by faith. In reality, we are to deny ourselves not to get saved but because we are saved! But that will work differently for each of us. Consider that unsettling account found in Matthew Chapter Eight. Several disciples have been walking along with Jesus and listening to him. Remember, a disciple is a “student” not necessarily a genuine Christian. In other places, we see some disciples turn away from Jesus (see John Chapter Six.) Consider Luke Chapter Nine: We read:

Luke 9:57-58 (NIV) “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’”

Quite a bold statement. “Wherever you go!?” Really? How would he know where Jesus might go? Is he prepared as Abraham was to leave his family and his connections and just “go?” (see Genesis 12) In other words, it is easy to say, “I’ll follow you anywhere you go!” But Jesus does not give the man a high five. Rather, he says this:

58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

Jesus just told the man that he doesn’t know where he will sleep and live and, by implication, he does not know if he will have life’s most basic provisions. It’s as if Jesus is saying “You’re sure you want to do this?” It’s as if Jesus just said, “It will cost you everything you have!” We are not sure what that man did next. Then we read:

Luke 9:59-60 (NIV) “He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’ But the man replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’”

The man’s request was very reasonable especially for the oldest son in a family, which may have been the case with this fellow. In that position, a son was supposed to stay near his father as long as necessary until the father passed on. Then he would be free to leave. As with Abraham, Jesus is saying that can be set aside. His response is certainly abrupt:

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Startling! The lost are spiritually dead! Proclaiming the Gospel is far more important than even your family responsibilities! This is consistent with our Lord saying:

Matthew 10:37 (NIV) “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me…”

Not sure what that man did after that. Again, it’s as if Jesus just said, “It will cost you everything you have!” It seems that Jesus wants nothing to do with discount disciples. Then finally, a third man makes what seems to be a simple and reasonable request, but he is rebuked. We read:

Luke 9:61-62 (NIV) “Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.’”

He is like most of us. Certainly me. It’s as if he is saying “Ok Jesus…I’m with you. But I have a requirement that I think you will appreciate.” But no.

62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Once again, “It will cost you everything you have!” If you look back, you will fail in the journey. It will mean that like Lot’s wife, you are longing for what you have left! Do you three really want this? To have nowhere to sleep and to let someone else bury your father and to leave your family even without a polite “Good-bye?”

This is very challenging. Question: What has following Jesus cost me? Cost you? What might it cost us in the future?

Next: “Counting the Cost”

Peace. Pastor Alberta


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“Grasping the Gospel” (In an Age of Discount Discipleship)

October 28,2018

Part Two: “Boasting About Knowing God”

Jeremiah 9:23-24 (NIV) “This is what the LORD says: ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the LORD.”

Part Two: “A Story About Rembrandt”

In our previous study, we looked at the words of our Lord when he said: Matthew 16:24-25 (NIV) “‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.’” One might ask what the thoughts of Jeremiah the Prophet have to do with our topic…and how can any of this be connected to Rembrandt? Does this statement touch on the matter of discount discipleship? I think so. Ok … let me see if we can piece this together. Consider that God said through Jeremiah that the greatest blessing in life is to KNOW and UNDERSTAND HIM … for us to know God as far as possible.

“That he understands and knows me!” What a marvelous thought! Theologians through the ages have tried to capture in words the nature of God. From Augustine and Aquinas to Luther and Calvin and right up until today, their words have sought to reveal God’s ways and expectations. In doing that, they necessarily touch on the matter of discipleship. They suggest that we want to be whole-hearted disciples … not those who came in on a discounted faith…as if genuine faith can be acquired with a twenty per cent off coupon! An easy faith. A cheap faith. What Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” But how would God lead us to truly die to self? Let’s consider a few thoughts about God … and then us.

In about 1669, the Dutch painter Rembrandt created a theological masterpiece without words. In oil paint. “The Return of the Prodigal Son” was based on Luke Chapter Fifteen. Here we read how the son demanded that his father give him his anticipated share of the estate. Parables are not allegories; not every detail is analogous to something specific but obviously the father represents God and his son represents the sinner who does not want to know God. He wants the benefits God can give him, but he would be pleased if God was dead! I say that because, in effect, the prodigal son was saying to his father “I wish you were dead, so I could have that money!” Rembrandt captured the return of the son beautifully and, in doing so, taught much about the nature of God.

Remember that Jeremiah said the greatest possible blessing in life is to know God. Remember also that the prodigal son rejected his father the way we reject God in our natural state. So, surely, we could expect God to be offended and hurt and even angry. But the parable does not teach that. It teaches that while God is just and strong to punish, He is filled with grace for the penitent sinner. How would Rembrandt have taught that great truth about God’s strength and God’s grace? Ok. Look at the father’s hands in the painting. Look closely.

The left one is strong and muscular as it holds the broken son. The right hand is more tender and gentler. He wants his son back but he, the son, must understand God’s nature before he can truly be his son. God is both just and firm and all-powerful … and tender and compassionate and all loving. God is nothing except Holy and good.

His son had come to the “end of himself” and returned to his father weeping and broken and sorry. Please note: the text says this literally: “he came to himself” giving us a word picture of someone who got clobbered and suddenly came to his senses! Now? He is truly penitent. In that state, what kind of father (God) did he return to? One who leaned down and embraced him! One who saw him coming and ran to him! That alone is an amazing statement from Jesus because in the ancient world fathers did not run to their children!

God is tender and compassionate towards everyone, but He will allow us to suffer until we die to self, as the prodigal son did. But even so, why did God even let his combative and headstrong son wander off, waste the money and suffer so much? Why did God not stand in the way and stop his son from such folly? Because the son had to learn for himself that being a true son (or a true disciple) requires a very real dying to self! Again, the text tells us:

“‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.’” How do we do that? How do we deny ourselves? By just not coveting or gossiping or lusting when the temptation arises? By being miserable doing without things we’d really like? No. That would just be a change in behavior. What is needed is a change in the inner person. Almost always, we must go our own headstrong way before we “come to the end of ourselves.” Rembrandt captured it perfectly. The penitent son is on his knees before his father. One shoe is missing. He is dressed in rags. Those standing around do not embrace him, including his older brother. The penitent son does not care. He has tried to live his life HIS way. Now he has left that life behind.

 Have we left an old life behind?
 What can we retain from our old lives that is good?
 And are we holding on to anything that is not?

Psalm 139:23-24 (ESV) “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”

Next: A story about Van Gogh

Blessings! Pastor Alberta



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“Grasping the Gospel” (In and Age of Discount Discipleship)

Part One: Losing Our Lives

October 23, 2018

Matthew 16:24-25 (NIV) “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.’”

When did we last hear that being a genuine disciple, a follower of Jesus … has anything to do with losing our lives? I thought it was about being free from condemnation for my sins? I thought it was about the abundant life? I thought it was about no longer fearing death. Isn’t it about “accepting Jesus” so we get to go to Heaven instead of Hell? Isn’t being a Christian “absolutely free” and no cost to us? We can’t earn our salvation so why this talk about losing our lives? Is that some kind of “works theology?” If faith is enough, as in Ephesians 2:8-9 … why can’t I hold onto my life and enjoy it and look forward to Heaven? And if this “losing my life” idea is important, why do I get the impression from most churches that it is not a concern? Good questions? I think so.

All those things a few lines above are true and wonderful. Forgiveness and abundance and Heaven. Of course. But again …we don’t hear much about losing our lives. Is it possible … that we really have not heard anything about that? This might get confusing. It might even challenge our certainties about what makes a great church a Christ-pleasing church. And what makes great preaching not just engaging and clever but Christ-centered? Hmm… again … is this idea popular: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” What does Jesus mean “lose his life for me?”

At this point, I want to offer a polite criticism about some approaches to church growth in many, not all, but many … modern churches. But first this statement is remarkably important to me: I am a Pastor by training who supports the local church and has served in several of them for forty years. I love the church! I believe whole-heartedly with the ancient maxim attributed to Cyprian in the fourth century: “He who would have God as his Father must have the church as his mother!” For the true disciple, the church is essential. But … what is the church supposed to do? What one thing did Jesus tell them they MUST do? Make disciples! Make disciples! That metric alone will be the measurement used by Jesus on judgment Day. He will ask: “Did your church make disciples?”

So…is the modern church, with all of its appeals, doing that? Consider this concern that I have … is the appeal of the church that it offers the opportunity to become a disciple? For what reason are people attracted to our churches? For the chance to “lose your life for Christ?” Really? I doubt it. I know that sounds sour and off-putting. I know it can be particularly obnoxious when people like me, who have retired from full-time pastoral ministry, even hint at any fault in today’s churches. Some may read this blog and simply blow me off as a pastoral Neanderthal crank. Perhaps. But consider this …

What do we read in the way of church advertisements lately?

Professional Music
Exciting Children’s Programs
Family Life Center with Gym and Climbing Wall
Marriage and Family Seminars
Plenty of Parking
Available Daycare
Life-Relevant Preaching
Free Music Lessons and …
A Great Coffee bar!

Well … those things are very nice. Really. And I guess they “bring people in.” Helps with church growth. But the first century church that exploded with massive crowds had none of them. No screens or climbing walls or even coffee? What did they have that drew people in? The Gospel! Not eclipsed by anything else. In fact, Paul and the other original church planters would not recognize much of what takes place on our Sundays. And apparently, those things were not needed to get the church started. But maybe that’s ok. Or … maybe it is not.

The real question is what are we saying to the lost? Think with me … are we inviting them to Christ who often spoke with very unappealing and troubling invitations? Or are we inviting them to church…which may not be the same thing? In short, do we go to church because we really like “our church” with all that it has to offer (see above.) Or do we go to church because we want to die to self and pick up our cross, etc.?

Imagine another church advertisement that says this:

Hear about the new life available in Christ
Learn how to put your sinful life to death
Ask the Holy Spirit to change your values about love, money, success and life
Every visitor will receive a cross to wear daily reminding them of their calling

I could go on. But …which church ad really appeals to you? To me? Let’s explore this idea that maybe we have discounted discipleship in the way we do evangelism. Perhaps the reason for so much sin in the church, worldliness and unforgiveness and sexual sin and shallowness is because we have not told them the whole story? Have we told them what Jesus wants? What his expectations are if we really come to him?

My colleague Pastor Winans from Cornerstone preached a sermon recently about the sin of pride. I thought “Good! When did we last speak of that?” I recalled that years ago, in a sermon, I mentioned a Puritan writer named John Owen and his book “The Mortification of Sin.” After the message someone gently asked me what that meant … “The mortification of sin?” I said “Ya’ know… putting sin to death in your Christian life.” Her response was something like “Really?” She seemed totally puzzled. And I thought “Well … that’s on me. I’ve preached to this person for twenty years, but this concept is completely unknown to her?! My bad?”

Let’s think about these things:

 Do we really want to follow Jesus to the Cross?
 Do we love our natural lives more than the Kingdom of God?
 Is it possible that genuine discipleship is first about dying and then about living?

Can we memorize Psalm 139: 23-24?

Next: A Story about Rembrandt

Blessings! Pastor Alberta


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“Grasping the Gospel” (In an age of “Discount Discipleship”)

Monday October 22, 2018

Hello Blog Friends,

I am considering a new shakingoffthedust.com series called “Grasping the Gospel” … it would be a frequent offering in writing on this blog site designed to examined what being a Christian REALLY IS.  What genuine discipleship requires of us. Not to get saved, but because we are saved.  Put another way, is the Gospel being presented the way Jesus presented it?

Put yet another way … did we read the spiritual “fine print” when we came to jesus?  Is it overlooked?  Would Paul and the other Biblical writers recognize what is being  preached in our church growth-driven culture?  Is it what they called for?

Anyway … your thoughts on this new study?  If you are “in” or interested … please advise.  Right or wrong, my motivation levels increase when I am certain that someone is finding my articles profitable.  So … that’s a little neurotic …:) … but I’d like to hear from you.  Even a simple “Thumbs Up!” would do.  I’d start this week.

In any case, God be praised and Blessings!

Peace. Pastor Alberta



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“Sixty Million Accusers Before the Throne of God”

Genesis 4:10 (NIV) The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!”

Sometimes I think that I can see them. All gathered together since Roe v. Wade in 1973. They are small little spirits seated in front of the Maker of Heaven and Earth. They are no longer terrified. Now, they are pointing their tiny fingers at America. At the politicians who have been blinded and are doing the devil’s work unknowing …but doing it nonetheless. And at the know-everything elite journalists who fill the collective American mind with messages about a woman’s right to choose. Smart people with absolutely no idea how they are being used to promote evil. Smart people who are still stuttering and stammering and even frothing at the tongue trying to explain one simple thing. Namely, how in the world did Mr. Donald Trump ever get elected?

I cannot apologize for my certainty in this. Two words explain Mr. Trump’s election. Gorsuch. Kavanaugh. It was God’s good pleasure to place the unexpected Trump in the White House. The odds were so overwhelmingly against him that only a Divine decision made it possible. Isn’t it almost amusing? That God would use this earthy and disreputable man to do His will? Now, he has appointed two Supreme Court Justices. I pray daily that he gets to appoint at least two more. I hope you will join me.

Back to the unborn. The Kavanaugh hearings were simply a charade of disingenuity. The real issue for the Devil was to oppose Judge Kavanaugh because of Roe v. Wade. If Mr. Kavanaugh had been pro-choice, we would never have heard of his accuser. But the evil one loves death and the pro-abortion community are pawns in his hands. Hence … wait until the next hearings for the highest court to come upon us. We can expect nothing short of a raging meltdown and violence even worse than the vulgar nonsense we have been seeing. The screaming protestors interrupting the senators. The shrill yelling at leaders in hallways and elevators. Interrupting them at dinner. The politician who said that’s what they should do. Raise hell! So filled with fury they should all be issued free medications. I’d be embarrassed to be near them. And they think … they are right! If they yelled “Shame!” at me I’d take it as an honor.

If God was incensed at the death of innocent Abel at the hands of his brother Cain, what judgement does He have for America for its wholesale slaughter of the innocent unborn? For the politicians who sold their souls for votes and power? For the medical community that has gotten wealthy by baby genocide? For the complicit media who turns their gaze away from the holocaust in the womb? Are they pointing at the church that is more interested in flashing lights and large screens and winsome preachers than speaking up against evil?

Go see the movie “Gosnell.” The case that even the liberal press had to cover. About a “doctor” who slaughtered innumerable babies after their birth. Think about it. Please. Begin to pray as never before for America. And yes, for our president. And yes, for more courts who will do God’s will. He … indeed God Himself …in my view … has shown us a great act of mercy in allowing a president to serve who is hands down the most pro-life president ever. Yes, he is despised by many. Understood. Many who could not discern God’s will if they received it in a text directly from Heaven. We must pray for Mr. Trump’s conversion and his safety and wellbeing.

America’s biggest problem? It’s not a president of indelicate speech and off-putting behaviors. It’s not that those who would kill the unborn might take back the House. It’s not the Fed and possible rate hikes. It’s not too much carbon in the air. It’s not even terrorism and the endlessly fractious Middle east. It’s not any of the things we are hearing about that have America on the sharp edge of judgement. It’s murder. Crushing the skulls of unborn babies and tearing off their arms and burning off their skin. And we see no signs of repentance. Not yet.

We who are Christians should see thru the vail that has blinded most of our elite thinkers and commentators and writers. For we are living in a world like that of Abraham when he visited the darkened land of Gerar and observed “Surely there is no fear of God in this place!”

Blog friends: go see the “Gosnell” movie and then pray as never before. I’ll do it with you. Sixty million little souls are crying out at this moment.

Peace. Pastor Alberta


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Coming Down From the Mountainside

Friday October 12, 2018

Blog Friends,

Well, we’ve done it!  We’ve sat on the mountainside with the Lord Jesus for 44 days!  Now … what?  I’ve enjoyed interacting with all of you as we listened and thought about what Jesus was saying to us.

At this moment, I’m not sure if we should press on and consider more of our Lord’s marvelous teachings.  I need to give this some thought and prayer as I am also contemplating some other commitments.  But … what are your thoughts?  I’d really like to hear from many of you.  Should we consider another set of truths from our Lord?  If we do, would you be agreeable if they were not daily but frequently?  Do you have any  suggestions as to what we might study?

I’m always glad to hear from you.  This has been fun and challenging with over 300 readers.  And I learned much from my blog friends. So … think about it and share your ideas with me.  OK?

Blessings!  Pastor Alberta


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