April 13 – Living Genuinely

1 Samuel 22-24 Luke 12:1-31

“Everything that is hidden will be shown, and everything that is secret will be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in an inner room will be shouted from the housetops.” (Luke 12:2-3 NCV)

The more Jesus began to be surrounded by crowds, the lonelier He must have felt as He headed towards the cross. In this instance, people were trampling each other to get close to Jesus and hear His teaching on how to love their fellow human beings. Think about that irony. He talked about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, but then reminded His disciples that there were no secrets. The truth will come out, so they needed to be genuine in their faith. If you try to hide things, if you try to keep things just between you and another person, someone will find out. If our lives don’t match what we say we believe, people will find out. That’s why we should be genuine about our faith in words and in deeds.

I don’t think Jesus was prophesying about the coming of Facebook or any other form of social media when He spoke these words. People don’t even try to keep secrets there. We know everything about them from their posts. I do think Jesus would laugh at the conspiracy theories of today, though. Charles Colson noted the inability of conspiracies to keep secrets when he pointed out that from the time that John Dean told President Nixon what was happening with Watergate, two weeks passed before the information made it to the public arena. This happened among some of the most powerful people in the world as they “‘fessed up” to save their own skins. He noted this as he talked about the power of the disciples after the Resurrection and the fact that all they never changed their story even under extreme pressure. The overall point is that we won’t keep secrets. Someone will tell what happened. Someone will “share a prayer request.” Our lives must reflect the Christ we follow. If people are surprised at the stories that others tell about us, let that surprise be that we lived what we believed and said. If our secret words are broadcast to the world, may they always be encouraging and uplifting.

Lord, the world needs genuine Christians to share Your mercy and grace. As I seek to share Your love with others, may others see me as a genuine follower of Jesus and be drawn to You.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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April 12 – Is Jesus Calling You Out?

1 Samuel 19-21 Luke 11:29-54

“One of the experts on the law said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, when you say these things, you are insulting us, too.’” (Luke 11:45 NCV)

Jesus had started in on the Pharisees. He’d just noted their hypocrisy in the way they washed their utensils but didn’t cleanse their hearts and then how meticulously they counted the seeds to tithe their cumin, but didn’t worry about justice and mercy, when one of the teachers of the Law interrupted Him. He complained that Jesus insulted them when He insulted the Pharisees. Maybe it’s just the mood I’m in, but I can imagine Jesus thinking, “Oh, you want your own insults, eh? I got this.” Then He focused His pronouncements of woe on the teachers of the Law specifically. He mentioned that they created strict laws for others to follow while they wouldn’t even try to follow them. He noted their complicity in killing the prophets. Then He accused them of destroying learning. The moral of the story is, “don’t give Jesus a motive to start talking about your sins.”

Jesus doesn’t go out of His way to talk about our sins. If He did, He could wake me in the middle of the night and start attacking me – keeping me up for days.  He does keep molding us to be conformed to His image, though, so He brings our sins to mind as He helps us to conquer them. Jesus does have a motive for making us confront our sins. He wants us to draw close to Him so that our sin is as abhorrent to us as it is to Him. Even though we know that God forgives our sins, we should never live as though we’re presuming on that forgiveness. When our sins are called to mind, we should be sorrowful about them, and repent of the actions and the attitudes that led to the sin. Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount that the attitudes led to the actions. I may not have committed adultery, but did I have lust in my heart? I may not have committed murder, but did I have hate in my heart? Admit it, when I mentioned those two areas, you thought about yourself, didn’t you? You should have, and not because I’m insulting you, but because those sins are part of the human condition. Unless you’re perfect, you’ll struggle with one sin or another. When Jesus calls them to mind, however He does it, He does so to help us cast off the sin that so easily entangles us so that we can run the race He’s called us to.

Lord, sin sidetracks us so easily, and like the lawyers You dealt with, we get offended easily when our sin is called to mind. Remind me that Your goal is to draw me closer to You. Please forgive me, and give me the strength to overcome my sin.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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April 11 – With Him or Against Him: The Choice is Yours

1 Samuel 17-18 Luke 11:1-28

“Anyone who is not with me is against me, and anyone who does not work with me is working against me.” (Luke 11:23 NCV)

“God is God, and I am not.” This passage from Luke is an example of why that statement’s a good quote. Were I to be in the situation Jesus was, I might have said “Forget this!” and destroyed the world. He’d just cast out a demon that made a man mute. Some were, rightfully, amazed. Others accused Him of having power over demons because His power came from Beelzebul himself. Then they demanded a sign that Jesus was from God and not the devil. That would have been enough to drive me to destruction – especially after all He’d already done. Jesus, instead, explained why their attacks were ludicrous and how what they were attributing to Beelzebul was actually the sign from Heaven they were looking for. Then, Jesus let His disciples know that anyone not with Him is against Him. It’s a small picture of how things have turned because Jesus had said earlier, anyone who isn’t against Him is for Him. (Luke 9:50)

Some have noted that this seems to be a contradiction. I think it’s a reminder that things were getting harder for Jesus as He approached the cross. At the same time, the situation that engendered those words involved someone who was working for Jesus, while today’s verse deals with people who were working against Jesus. As Jesus approached the cross, there could be no neutrality. When you think about the Kingdom of God today, neutrality still isn’t an option. You either accept the gospel message or you reject it. That seems like a harsh statement. Many people want to think about the message. They want to come to a decision about whether or not the gospel is true. That’s understandable. Until they decide to repent of their sin and seek forgiveness through the grace of Jesus Christ, they aren’t part of the Kingdom of God. Jesus looked at each of His critics in this encounter, desiring that they’d turn to Him. Those who didn’t needed to know the consequences. Jesus still calls people to follow Him and promises citizenship in the Kingdom of God. The entrance requirement is still the same: a relationship with Jesus. You can’t enter without having that relationship, but God offers every person the chance to turn to Him through Jesus. If I could expand the original verse, I think it fits with Scripture to say, “Anyone who is not with me is against me, and anyone who does not work with me is working against me.” (Luke 11:23 NCV) ‘And I want everyone to be with me.’

Lord, thank You for including me in Your Kingdom. Remind me as I go through life today, that as Your ambassador, I should promote Your kingdom and tell others how great it is.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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April 10 – Be a Neighbor…But Wait! There’s More!

1 Samuel 15-16 Luke 10:25-42

“But the man, wanting to show the importance of his question, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:29 NCV)

You would have thought that the Pharisees had learned this truth early on in Jesus’s ministry. If you’re in a verbal sparring match with Jesus, you lose. No matter how tricky the question; no matter how important the question, if you’re trying to make yourself look good, or Jesus look bad, you lose. The Scribes and Pharisees were at it again, trying to pin Jesus down. First, they asked Him about getting eternal life. When Jesus asked what the Law said, they parroted what Jesus had answered when He was asked about the greatest commandment. If they’d just stopped there, they’d’ve had a draw. Instead they tried to pin Him down. “Ok, I’m supposed to love my neighbor. Define my neighbor.” I can imagine the disciples smiling at that question thinking, “OK, now he’s really gonna get it.”

That question really cuts to the division between Law and Grace. Under Law, we’d sit down and define neighbor. For the Jews of that day, the definition of a neighbor might begin with, “Well, he’s Jewish.” This scribe wanted to limit the number of people he showed love to. He would love his neighbors if only he knew the right ones to love. Jesus exploded that attitude. His answer put Jews, and later Christians, on alert: “you be the neighbor. You act neighborly.” The Law seeks limitations. “Who is my neighbor? How much should I give? What’s the minimum I need to do?” Grace breaks down barriers. “I’m to be a neighbor to all. Everything belongs to God. How can I do more?” Following Jesus isn’t a religion where we do the minimum to stay in good standing; following Jesus is a love relationship where we give all we have and all we are because of the joy in that relationship. I don’t show love for my wife by trying to get by doing the least amount possible. I get excited about being able to be with her, to help her, to work with her. In my relationship with Jesus, I’m excited that I get to go to church and worship Him with fellow believers. Overtime on Sunday morning? Awesome! Sunday night? Wednesday night? Other opportunities to serve? All of those are great because I get to be with my Lord and act out of my love for Him. Should the tithe on my check be $85.53? or should I round it up and make it $90? Or $100? When I realize that all that I give goes to further the work of the Kingdom of God, I get excited at the opportunity to give more. All I have comes from God. Do I work? Yes, because He gave me the ability. Do I earn the money I get? Yes, because God enabled me to be healthy enough to work. Life itself is a gift from God. Jesus taught us to be a neighbor to those we meet. Sometimes that ain’t easy, but then again, the guy who lives next door to me might think it isn’t easy to be a neighbor to me. We should rejoice in the opportunity to be a neighbor to others and find ways to minister to our neighbors in need.

Lord, You’re amazing! Make my life so full that it would be ridiculous to let religious rules and regulations limit me. Give me a heart willing to care for my neighbor, to give to support others, and to spend time with You.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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April 9 – You Can Be An Answer to Prayer

1 Samuel 13-14 Luke 10:1-24

“He said to them, “There are a great many people to harvest, but there are only a few workers. So pray to God, who owns the harvest, that he will send more workers to help gather his harvest.” (Luke 10:2 NCV)

Jesus didn’t ask people to pray often. He commanded people to pray. He prayed Himself. We don’t see many instances of Jesus saying, “Would you pray about this?” When He makes that kind of request, that must be an important concern. As Jesus got ready to send seventy-two evangelists out as advance teams to prepare the way for His ministry He realized that so many more workers were needed. His request came as He prepared them for the work ahead. These were the first to go out, and they began being an answer to His prayer. Jesus knew that He had a world to reach and these seventy-two weren’t enough to change Jerusalem. More were needed.

Times haven’t changed. There are still people ready to hear the good news about Jesus. They don’t realize what they need, or else they’d seek Jesus out. It’s not that the message of Jesus doesn’t speak to people in the world today. The message of grace, of forgiveness, of hope is always relevant to those who are wandering in the darkness of their own minds thinking that there’s no hope for them. Jesus bring peace to those who are troubled. How can you look at the world and not recognize that people need the love, the forgiveness, the peace that Jesus brings? Jesus calls us to go out with the same message that He sent the seventy-two out with: “The Kingdom of God is near you.” His prayer request hasn’t changed either. The harvest is plentiful. There are many people ready to hear the good news about the Kingdom of God. Pray that the Lord of the Harvest, God, will send more workers out into the harvest. Unless your church is different, I don’t know about any church that wouldn’t say “Amen” to that prayer. We need more workers sharing the good news of Jesus. The fun thing about this is that when we respond to Jesus’s call, we’re an answer to His prayer. It’s a nice turn around from always asking Him to answer our prayers. Make today a day you share the love of Jesus with someone else; make today the day you’re an answer to Jesus’s prayer.

Oh Lord, the harvest before us is still overwhelming. We have a whole world that needs to know Your love and grace, and so few workers to share it. Let me be an answer to Your prayer. Let me encourage others to be an answer to Your prayer also.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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April 8 – The Weapon of Hatred

1 Samuel 10-12 Luke 9:37-62

“When James and John, followers of Jesus, saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven and destroy those people?’” (Luke 9:54)

If the last enemy to be destroyed is death, hatred is the assault weapon of choice that death uses. Jesus had set His course towards Jerusalem and the cross. He was so determined to get there that He walked through Samaria, instead of taking the customary route around that apostate country. Jesus sent messengers ahead to prepare lodging, but the undying enmity between Jews and Samaritans kicked in when they discovered that Jesus was heading towards Jerusalem. The people of that town refused to let Jesus stop there. James and John, not to be outdone in the hatred department, showed their rage by offering to call fire down from heaven to destroy the infidels. Jesus reminded them that He hadn’t come to practice hate and destroy people; He’d come to show God’s love and bring them salvation. He probably let them know that you don’t show God’s love by destroying others.

It would be nice to say that the world had learned its lesson and no longer engaged in hateful practices. As we see the news from around the world, we know that it hasn’t. I’d be happy to know that Christians had taken this teaching of Jesus to heart and showed love to each other and to those outside the faith. As I look at my attitudes, and as I see the words and actions of my fellow believers, I can see that we still have a long way to go. We think about people who follow other religious beliefs. Rather than showing them the love of Christ and drawing them into the truth, we’d prefer to argue, bluster even, about how wrong they are and walk away from failed evangelism efforts taking pride in the fact that we tried to tell those misguided folks about Jesus. While we need to tell them about Jesus, how we show His love is vital in evangelism. We seem to pick out certain sins committed by non-believers – even some who claim to believe in Jesus – and we make it a point to let them know how wrong we are. We may not claim to be able to call fire down from heaven on them, but they feel our wrath, which we transmit in full Christian love, of course, hoping that if they feel our wrath, they’ll fear God’s wrath even more and repent. The women caught in adultery wouldn’t stand a chance if she’d been caught by Christians today. Let’s not forget to hate those who claim to follow Jesus, but don’t agree with all our doctrines. Rather than agreeing on the essentials of the faith and allowing liberty on non-essentials, we expect others to follow our teaching completely or we write them off as heretics. And the words of Jesus ring in our heads as a reminder that Jesus came to seek and save those who are lost, not destroy anyone.

Lord, it’s so easy to hate other people, especially when I’m right and they’re wrong. I’m so glad that You didn’t hate me when I was wrong. Help me to love others when they’re wrong and use them to show me where I’m wrong in my understanding of You. Let me grow in Your grace, especially showing it to others.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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April 7 – Let It Go….Let It Go

1 Samuel 7-9 Luke 9:18-36

“Jesus said to all of them, ‘If people want to follow me, they must give up the things they want. They must be willing to give up their lives daily to follow me. Those who want to save their lives will give up true life. But those who give up their lives for me will have true life.’” (Luke 9:23-24 NCV)

There are those who think how wonderful it would have been to walk with Jesus back in those days. They imagine listening to His teaching and seeing Him confound the Pharisees. What they forget is that Jesus destroyed the preconceptions of His followers as well. They knew He was the Messiah – they had cleared up any questions on that issue. Then Jesus whacked them over their heads with the message that He would suffer and be executed by the Jewish leaders. Then, in true sucker punch fashion He let them know that all those perks they thought they’d get for following the Messiah – they needed to be given up. And then things got real: anything that they thought they wanted, including life itself needed to be surrendered to God. Let it go. If you want to think about following Jesus, you’d better take that admonition into account. There’s a benefit, though. Following Jesus gives you true life, life with God.

The relationship between God and His people is often compared to a marriage. The church is the bride of Christ, for example. When a man marries a woman, he is to leave all others behind and cling only to his wife. There are a lot of females in this world. Some will promise you nothing but happiness – although that usually comes at a cost. Some males will use them to gain momentary pleasure – but that feeling will go away before they leave the room. When I married my wife, I gave up any thought of being with other women. I took her for better or worse, just as she took me. Together we’ve focused on growing in God’s grace. We’ve had bumps and potholes in the road of life, but this is true life for a married couple. In the same way, when I turned to Jesus long ago, I gave up all my other desires to follow Him. I had dreams and plans. I was in college, so I didn’t have much in the way of material goods. All those went by the wayside because of the joy of knowing Jesus and walking with Him daily. As I look back on my life, I think of all the things I didn’t have and the life that could have been – and I don’t miss them one bit. Paul described what this verse means a little differently, but it’s accurate: For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) I never think about what I’ve given up because life with Jesus is nothing but win.

Lord, thank You for the grace that allows me to live for You and with You. Life with You is so great that I don’t even think about what I’ve given up. The joy of knowing You and the hope of heaven is much more joy than anything this world has to offer.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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April 6 – “I’m Dying To Be Shown That You Are Not Just Any Man”

1 Samuel 4-6 Luke 9:1-17

“Herod said, ‘I cut off John’s head, so who is this man I hear such things about?’ And Herod kept trying to see Jesus.” (Luke 9:9)

Herod Antipas was THE man in Galilee. He was recognized by Caesar Augustus as the tetrarch, or ruler of Galilee and Perea. While he had some issues because of his personal morality, he was the ruler of the area. He was the one who arrested and executed John the Baptist. As news of Jesus reached him, though, he was unsettled. There are reports that many thought this was John, risen from the dead. (Ironic, isn’t it.) As Herod discussed this Jesus with his advisors, he pointed out that he had ordered John’s execution and wondered who this other religious fanatic was. Then, we see a curious statement: He kept trying to see Jesus. As Jesus walked around Galilee and taught, He was readily available. Herod could have left his palace and found Jesus teaching somewhere. If Jesus had time for blind beggars, foreign women, and leaders of the Pharisees, He could have found time for this fake king. And if that didn’t suit his tetrachness, he could have had someone round Jesus up and bring Him to the palace for an interview. He had that power.

I’ve heard a lot of people who talked like Herod. They’d like to see Jesus. They’d like to follow Jesus, but…. When the time is right…. They aren’t quite ready. Jesus isn’t hard to find. We have God’s word, the Bible, that tells the story of His life. When we read the Bible prayerfully, we connect with Jesus. If that’s too hard, churches proclaim the good news about Jesus weekly (or more) in worship and in Bible Study. It’s inconvenient to go to church, though. Sunday’s a day to sleep in – it’s the weekend after all. Work starts the next day. Or perhaps we need that relaxation that comes from a day on the lake fishing, in the woods hunting, or on the golf course. What we need is people who will show Jesus in their daily lives, helping others to understand who this man is that people keep hearing about. There are many “Herods” in the world today. They may be in politics, or CEOs of giant corporations, or road workers holding the signs that say, “slow down,” or homeless people trying to survive on the streets. There are so many from every walk of life that talk about a nebulous need for something in their lives that’s different and can change them for the better, who won’t even make any effort to learn about Jesus – but that’s to be expected because the natural man doesn’t seek the things of God. For those of us who follow Christ, that means that we have the responsibility to share His love and grace. We can make a difference in the lives of all the “Herods” of this world who are waiting for Jesus to come to them. As to their reactions, just remember that when Pilate sent Jesus to Herod, he mocked Jesus. Don’t worry about their reaction, just keep loving them.

Oh Lord, there are so many people who know they need something different in their lives. They may be curious about You, but they don’t know where to find You. Use me to show them Your mercy and grace.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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April 5 – Dangerous Worship Leads to Living Dangerously

1 Samuel 1-3 Luke 8:26-56

“All the people of the Gerasene country asked Jesus to leave, because they were all very afraid. So Jesus got into the boat and went back to Galilee.” (Luke 8:37)

He had terrorized the area for a long time. They couldn’t chain him, because the evil spirits living inside him gave him supernatural strength. He tore them open. The demons inside of him forced him out of town. He had torn his clothes off and roamed the country side, sleeping in burial caves. Then Jesus came. The demons knew they were done for and they begged Jesus to cast them into a sounder of pigs on a nearby hill…imagine being the swineherd for that sounder and working near this guy only to see the whole group jump in the water and drown. News got back to the village and people came out to check on the situation. What to their wondering eyes should appear but Jesus and village terrorist sitting down, negotiating travel plans. That, and their pigs were gone. Maybe they thought Jesus was in cahoots with their old nemesis. Maybe they thought that if the pigs were gone, they were next. Whatever the case, they didn’t want Jesus around and asked Him to leave – and He did.

This story has always horrified me. It isn’t the demoniac that scares me. He was a known quantity even before he was set free from the demons. As scary as he was, you knew to expect him to seek to terrorize the people. The horror comes from the common, everyday people who check out this story of a man who had been released from his demons and then don’t want anything to do with Jesus. The story doesn’t tell us that the townspeople were mad because of the economic loss. It says that they were afraid. Jesus had done through love what they couldn’t do through threats or chains: cure the demoniac. They recognized that Jesus has power that they couldn’t control, and they didn’t like it. One of the problems we have in our churches today is that we want to control what goes on. We want everything done “decently and in order” so much that we aren’t willing to allow for God to work outside the printed order of service. That would be “dangerous worship.” We want a tame God who’ll follow our plans in church and in our everyday lives. Gone are the days when we would seek God’s leadership as we prayed. Now our prayers are more likely to let God know our plans and give Him an opportunity to bless them. We’re scared that God might call us to do something crazy, and so we rarely take time to listen to Him. Today, open your calendar as you pray. Don’t ask God to bless your plans, though. Be dangerous. Ask God to set your agenda for the day and be obedient to that. He may not change your appointments, but He will open opportunities to minister to others while you work, if you listen to Him.

Lord, I lay my day out before You. Some of these things I think I need to do, but I’m willing to change them if you call me to change. All these items involve people who need Your love. Use me to show Your love and grace to the people I work with today.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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April 4 – Understanding Begins With God

Ruth 1-4 Luke 8:1-25

“Everything that is hidden will become clear, and every secret thing will be made known. So be careful how you listen. Those who have understanding will be given more. But those who do not have understanding, even what they think they have will be taken away from them.” (Luke 8:17-18 NCV)

Truth is an interesting dividing line. While Jesus didn’t say that specifically, He talked about secrets coming out in the open. He also talked about understanding the truth. There are some who understand the truth of what’s happening in our world because of their relationship with God. As they seek God in the midst of world events, they gain greater clarity about the world and about how God is working in this world. On the other hand, some people think they understand, but as you listen to them explain how and why things are happening, you realize that they have no understanding of life. As they continue speaking, they seem to get wackier and wackier. Usually, they don’t even realize how off base they are as they quickly lose all credibility.

For instance, a newsman tweeted on Good Friday that the way to make any day good was to show selflessness. According to him, that works every time. He probably considers himself very intelligent. Many people seemed to agree with him. Anyone who knows the truth, though, knows that he has no understanding of why we call it “Good Friday.” Good Friday is the day when the awfulest thing in the whole world happened, Jesus was put to death, but, because this fulfilled His mission and by going through this He paid the penalty for sin so that we might have a relationship with God, it was a good thing for us. Anyone who understands what Christians believe should understand that. Should we be selfless and make today a good day? Of course, but if every person in the world practiced that for a full day, while it would be a good day, it still wouldn’t have the impact that Jesus did by dying on the cross. What understanding he thought he had, was taken from him. Meanwhile, those of us who understand that God is working in this world see what’s going on and understand that God’s working even in the worst times. Whether disasters are natural or man-made, God works through His people to show His mercy and grace. Mr. Rogers is famous for helping children understand how to deal with disasters. He told them to look for the helpers. When God’s people understand His words and His ways, they will be among the helpers – not the only ones, but they will be there, working, caring, and showing God’s love to all who are suffering.

Lord, the wise become foolish when they have no understanding of You or Your ways and the foolish become wise by following and understanding You. May I be so faithful that You see me as being wise and that even those who don’t know You will recognize Your presence in my life.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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