Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: prayer

My home and native land

I am Canadian by birth. I am part of this country and its people; this country and its people are part of me. The history and culture of Canada are an integral part of who I am. I have lived and worked in five of Canada’s ten provinces and visited three more; I am at home anywhere in our land; I speak both official languages.

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Image by Welcome to all and thank you for your visit ! ツ from Pixabay

Being a citizen by birth is much like being part of a family. We may not always agree, but our roots go deep, our histories have intertwined so we cannot escape the fact that we are family. People from other countries, other cultures, have married into our family and become part of who we are as a family. So it is with our country. We used to have a family doctor who came here from the Democratic Republic of Congo, had received his medical training there. He told me once that he sometimes thought of going back, but his children were Canadian, their roots were here.

I love the land of my birth, my home and native land. I love her people. And yet. . .

By the new birth I am a citizen of another country, the kingdom of God. Specifically, I am a member of one special part of this kingdom, the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. Not by natural birth, my parents and my wife’s parents were not members of this church. The natural birth does not make anyone a citizen of the kingdom of God.

At the beginning, we had no roots here. They soon grew and twined together with our brothers and sisters so that we cannot imagine being spiritually at home elsewhere. We love our brothers and sisters. Like us, they are sometimes weak, sometimes clumsy, we all make mistakes but we are family.

We are citizens of two kingdoms, but our first allegiance is to the kingdom of God. Our Canadian citizenship is only for this life, our heavenly citizenship is for eternity. As the second century writer of the Epistle to Diognetus so eloquently described the life of Christians:

For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind either in locality or in speech or in customs. For they dwell not somewhere in cities of their own, neither do they use some different language, nor practise an extraordinary kind of life.. . They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners; they bear their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is foreign. . . Their existence is on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.

There is an election in Canada on Monday. I will not vote. However, I will continue to pray for the members of our government, for they are ministers of God for the matters of this life. I will pray that God will bless them with wisdom and vision to exercise their ministry for the good of all the people of our land, so we can live in peace, order and safety. Above all, that we may be at liberty to worship and serve God according to His will.

The Christian nation heresy

Time was that most Canadians attended a church where Christian values were taught and claimed to govern their lives by those teachings. In such circumstances governments found it expedient to pay lip service at least to Christian principles and to legislate accordingly.

Times have changed. A survey several years ago found that 16% of Canadians attend church each week and only 5% of us read the Bible daily. 55% have never in their life opened a Bible and read a few words in it.

The few of us who still read, believe and endeavour to live by the Bible are left in disarray by this shifting of the ground beneath our feet. It’s all the fault of the government, we say. This was once a Christian country, but it doesn’t feel like it anymore.

We are avoiding reality when we say such things. The government did not create the situation we find ourselves in and has no ability to remedy it. Political activism is a snare for the Christian, a means of diverting us into fruitless activity while the world around us pursues its downward course.

Another danger for Christians is to draw apart from the troubles of the world and concentrate on being ready for our Lord’s return. But this is just the self-centred attitude that has allowed the society we live in to drift into its present situation.

For as Christians we have a responsibility to our fellow citizens. Jesus said we are the salt of the earth. He was talking of salt as a preservative, the only means available in those times to prevent food from spoiling. What good is salt if it is deposited in little piles that have no contact with what it is supposed to preserve?

He also said we are the light of the world and warned us not to hide our light under a bushel. If we cannot talk about our Christian faith in terms that are readily understood by others, isn’t that hiding our light under a bushel? Worse still is to think we don’t have to say anything, people will observe us and be drawn to enquire about our faith. Really? When we don’t even know how to articulate that faith?

When the people of God were taken captives to Babylon, the Holy Spirit inspired Jeremiah to tell them to “seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.”

Paul told Timothy: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”

Can we say that we love God with all our being and our neighbour as ourselves if we decide the best thing for us to do is live in peace and quietness and let the world go on its merry way to destruction?

That wasn’t the way the early Christians thought, nor the Anabaptist martyrs whom we call our forefathers. There is no such thing as a Christian country. Never has been. There used to be Christian people. Do they still exist today? Do our neighbours know anything about them?

The bishop said I needed a new heart

In January 1953, Dad told the preacher I would attend the catechism classes, then came home and told me I was going. So I went. I didn’t dare defy my Dad; besides I was with the four guys closest to my age, Leonard, Larry, Carman and Allan. I suspect their dads had done the same thing.

Once a week after school we walked to the Vicarage to study the Anglican catechism. Reverend Brown explained each article, as much as eleven year old boys could understand. The confirmation service, where the bishop would be present to lay his hands on our heads and pray for us, making us full members of the church, came in June.

We five boys had a meeting with the bishop before the service began. The Right Reverend Michael Coleman, Bishop of Qu’Appelle, was a kindly, white-haired gentleman. He spoke to us of how the service would be conducted. Then he told us:

When I was your age, I had the idea that after the bishop laid his hands on me and prayed for me, I would not be able to sin anymore. When we got home after church, I went out behind the barn to see if I could still say the words that I had used before. They came just as easily as they ever had! When I lay my hands on your head today and pray for you that will change nothing inside of you. To overcome sin you will need something that I cannot do for you. You will need a change of heart.

I didn’t understand what they meant, but those words stuck in my mind. They would resurface occasionally over the years, but it took another 17 years for me to understand. I had grown up in a home where the Bible was read, we attended church faithfully, but nobody else ever spoke to me about the need of a changed heart.

I quit going to church after I left home and tried to enjoy the pleasures of the world, but didn’t find them very gratifying. I knew something was wrong, but didn’t know what it was. In my reading I had come across the story of people long ago who had refused to deny their faith, even when threatened with death. Many of them did die. They were called Mennonites and it seemed to me that they had been real Christians.

I wondered if there were any people like that left in the world. Twice I attended a worship service in a church in a nearby city that called itself Mennonite. No one spoke to me or gave any indication that they knew I was there. I gave up on that, but started reading the Bible for the first time in many years.

In the spring of 1970 things came to a head. I was facing many troubles that seemed insurmountable. I opened the Bible at random and a verse stood out before me that told me I was a sinner. I knelt and prayed for forgiveness and promised to do whatever God wanted me to do.

Nothing happened that I was aware of. It took several months before I took stock of how much my life had changed and realized that something had happened. Silently, unseen, my heart had changed. It clicked that this must be what people called the new birth.

In 28 years, no one had told me that I needed to be born again, much less explain what that meant. In 28 years, only one person had ever told me that I needed a changed heart.

I’m sure things haven’t improved in the last fifty years. Whose fault is that? How many people have I told that they need a new heart? A few. Reflecting on all this leaves me uncomfortable. I think that’s a good thing. I have been too comfortable for too long, thinking others were doing the telling. I need to get out of that comfort zone.

Not a scary book

When Howard was converted, he knew there were a lot of differing ideas out there about what the Bible said. So, every time he sat down to read the Bible, he would pray first and ask God to help him understand correctly. When I met him some years later it was evident that God had honoured those prayers. Unfortunately, Howard also clearly understood that by the time I met him he was living in sin that the Bible condemned, and didn’t know what to do about it, or perhaps more correctly, didn’t want to know.

Still, if you find the Bible intimidating, prayer would be a good place to start. Understanding isn’t enough, though, as Howard had discovered. It would also be a good idea to pray after you read the Bible and ask God to help you be obedient to as much as you understood from His Word.

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God didn’t intend for the Bible to be a scary book. Can I say it that way? What I mean is that there should be times when the Bible speaks to us in a way that will frighten us out of our complacency and lukewarmness, but most of the time we will find it the most fascinating book we have ever read. It tells us that our life has a meaning, that God loves us, wants to have a conversation with us and has always battled the unseen powers that are against us.

Perhaps a little introduction to the structure of the Bible will help demystify it. The Old Testament began with Moses and reached its completion in the days of Ezra. Jewish synagogues still have the books of the Old Testament written on scrolls and those scrolls are arranged a little differently than how the same books appear in our Bibles. It may interest you to know that arrangement and the reasons behind it.

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The Jewish Scriptures are divided in three: first the Torah, the teachings, or the law – the books of Moses; then the Nevi’im, the Prophets; and lastly the Ketuvim (Writings). All together, they are referred to as the TaNaKh, an acronym of the first letters of each section.

When the New Testament refers to the law and the prophets it is referring collectively to the first two groups of scrolls. “It is written in the prophets” means that it is found somewhere in the group of scrolls called the Prophets.
Here are the divisions, I will elaborate a little more in the posts that follow:

Torah, or Law:
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, all written by Moses.

The Prophets:
The former prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings
The latter prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve (the minor prophets).

The Writings
Poetry and wisdom literature: Psalms, Proverbs, Job
History: Daniel, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah
Five special scrolls: Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther.

You probably noticed that the books called the former prophets are books we think of as history and that the book of Daniel is grouped with the history scrolls rather than the prophets.

One other interesting point is that the last five scrolls listed were each read every year, and still are in synagogues, at specific festivals. The Song of Solomon was read at Passover; Ruth at Pentecost; Lamentations on the eve of the ninth of Av to commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem; Ecclesiastes at the feast of Tabernacles; and Esther at Purim, the festival commemorating the deliverance of the Jews in Persia that is described in Esther.

Why I do not read the King James Bible

I read the Authorized Version instead, of which Cambridge University Press is the main publisher. The text is identical to that in Bibles that are called the King James Version, except that the AV maintains the alternate marginal readings that were placed there by the translators 400 years ago.

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I suppose that if we would meet the members of the company of translators who produced the AV, we might find their manner of dress far too extravagant to consider them to be humble men. But if we can look past the clothing, we may see that they were far more humble than any who have come after them. They believed they were handling the Word of God and they had a holy fear of inserting their own opinions or preferences into the translation. Thus, when they came to a word or phrase that might be translated more than one way, they did not feel that they had a right to choose one over the other. They placed one in the text and the other in the margin. These marginal notes they considered to be an integral part of their translation.

The custom of calling this translation the King James Version originated in the USA. Our American friends do not seem to have had the same humility as the translators, as I don’t believe the marginal readings can be found in any KJV printed in the USA. There are plain text printings of the KJV with no notes at all, but in many editions they have inserted other notes, producing a great variety of reference Bibles that are of dubious usefulness and trustworthiness.

I am reprinting below an abridged excerpt from the long introduction to the Authorized Version which explains their reasons for placing alternate readings in the margin. You will notice that they did not believe there to be any confusion in things essential to our salvation, but felt that where there were different possible renderings we should seek the assistance of God’s Spirit by prayer and the aid of our brethren by conference.

Reasons moving us to set diversity of senses in the margin,
where there is great probability for each.

Some peradventure would have no variety of senses to be set in the margin, lest the authority of the Scriptures for deciding of controversies by that show of uncertainty should somewhat be shaken. But we hold their judgement not to be so sound in this point. For though whatsoever things are necessary are manifest, . . . yet for all that it cannot be dissembled, that partly to exercise and whet our wits, partly to wean the curious from loathing of them for their everywhere plainness, partly also to stir up our devotion to crave the assistance of God’s Spirit by prayer, and lastly, that we might be forward to seek aid of our brethren by conference, and never scorn those that be not in all respects so complete as they should be, . . . it hath pleased God in His divine providence here and there to scatter words and sentences of that difficulty and doubtfulness, not in doctrinal points that concern salvation, (for in such it hath been vouched that the Scriptures are plain) but in matters of less moment, that fearfulness would better beseem us than confidence, . . . it is better to make doubt of those things which are secret, than to strive about those things that are uncertain. There be many words in the Scriptures which be never found there but once, (having neither brother nor neighbour, as the Hebrews speak) so that we cannot be holpen by conference of places. Again, there be many rare names of certain birds, beasts, and precious stones, &c., concerning which the Hebrews themselves are so divided among themselves for judgement, that they may seem to have defined this or that, rather because they would say something, than because they were sure of that which they said. . . . Now in such a case, doth not a margin do well to admonish the reader to seek further, and not to conclude or dogmatize upon this or that peremptorily? For as it is a fault of incredulity, to doubt of those things that are evident, so to determine of such things as the Spirit of God hath left (even in the judgement of the judicious) questionable, can be no less than presumption. Therefore . . . diversity of signification and sense in the margin, where the text is not so clear, must needs do good, yea, is necessary, as we are persuaded . . . They that are wise, had rather have their judgements at liberty in differences of readings, than to be captivated to one, when it may be the other.

How well do you know God?

How well do you know your neighbour? Perhaps you think you know quite a lot about him, but do you really know him? Do you know what makes him tick, what things motivate him, what things give him joy or sorrow? Do you know what he’d like to tell you about how you could be a better neighbour?

How well do you know God? Perhaps you read the Bible and pray every day. Do you hear God speaking when you do that, or is it just something a good Christian is supposed to do? Do you hear God telling you what He’d like to make of your life? Do you hear Him telling you about things He really wishes you would do differently?

When you read the Bible, are you just wandering to and fro, picking the prettiest flowers, the shiniest stones? Do you ever wonder why some people seem to find so much more? Or do people sometimes tell you something they say they found in the Bible and it just don’t seem right, but you don’t know how to find out for yourself?

Let’s start from square one: the goal of reading the Bible is not to learn nice stories about God; it is not to learn about the future: it is not to discover a set of rules to guide our life; it is not to equip ourselves to argue or debate with others. The only purpose for reading the Bible is to get to know its author and to know what He wants us to do here and now in this time and place in which we live.

It has always been the people who were small in their own eyes who accomplished the most for God. Noah spent 100 years building a huge boat. Do we understand how ridiculous that was? Water falling from the sky – that had never happened in the entire history of the world. Yet here was this old guy saying that God was going to send rain to wash the world of all the sin that was happening. I imagine the people scoffed at his foolish words and actions.

Finally the boat was built and stocked with food for all the people and creatures that would ride out the flood. Just more foolishness. Then the animals started coming to the ark. I suppose those who saw thought it strange, but what did it prove? Noah did not exclude anyone from coming into the ark to be saved, but finally God shut the door. And the deluge came. We know a lot about this foolish old man who built the ark, and nothing at all about those who perished in the flood, however great they may have been in their own eyes.

King Saul started out small in his own eyes, but the romance of being king soon began to grow on him. He didn’t come to a good end, either. It is still that way – those who develop a sense of how important and needful they are for the work of God, cease to be useful to God.

The vitality, the purity and the growth of the kingdom of God depends on the vitality, the purity and the growth in faith and obedience of each individual member of the kingdom. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Let’s read it all, chapter by chapter, book by book, the whole Bible, over and over. Let’s read it in bite-sized pieces so that we can grasp what is happening; let’s read the whole story in sequence so that we can grasp the context and see the larger picture.

Let’s read it prayerfully, asking God to reveal to us step by step what He wants us to see, what we need to see for this particular moment and place in time. As we do so, we will develop an acquaintanceship and a relationship with God that grows deeper all the time. He will reprove us, instruct us and encourage us, as long as we are obedient in each small step of the way.

Prairie fire!

Just before supper time today my wife smelled smoke. We went outside and saw the fire behind the buildings of our neighbour. Our son-in-law was the first to see it while going home for supper. He turned around to get the fire engine from the village six miles away, sending out the alert to  other members of the volunteer fire department as he went. He called the closest farmer and he drove his tractor over there right away to make a fire guard in the stubble.

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Image by skeeze from Pixabay

This is spring time in Saskatchewan; Quebec is having floods, we are having fires. They happen most often around the Easter weekend; people clean up their yards and want to burn the trash. If there is a little breeze, the fire gets away on them and spreads like wildfire in the dry grass, stubble and brush. A week ago our son-in-law spent the whole day going from one fire to another, three in all.

Today’s fire may have been caused by spontaneous combustion. Our neighbour makes doors for cabinet makers. I am guessing the fire may have started in a pile of wood scraps, rags and empty paint and glue containers. He was not aware there was a fire until our son-in-law called him.  It took two hours to put the fire out, a couple of trees and some dry grass and stubble burned, but the fire was away from the buildings. 

There is a spiritual parallel in the way so many churches are disappearing in rural and small-town Saskatchewan. The town where I grew up once had five churches; only two are left. Of those two, neither has roots in the Word of God. One teaches salvation through the sacraments, the other teaches that it is society that needs salvation, not people.

What happened? I think they dried up from the roots. Many people used to read the Bible daily. Perhaps their understanding of what they read differed somewhat from the way those in another church believed. Yet they all had a basic trust in the truth of God’s Word. Many preachers were pretty down to earth men who were willing to get by on meager fare to bring the gospel to their people.

Denominational leaders thought they could make the gospel more effective in providing more education for preachers. Once these better-educated preachers went out into the rural churches, the people discovered they hadn’t really understood anything about the Bible. The new preachers brought new insights, but people didn’t trust themselves to read the Bible for themselves any more.

Then too, better educated ministers deserved a better salary. Soon the smaller churches couldn’t afford a minister. They amalgamated to pool their resources. That meant people had to drive further to church and sometimes they just couldn’t make it every Sunday. That often led to another round of amalgamations. Today very few small communities have any kind of gospel preaching church.

A prairie fire mostly just burns dead grass, leaves and bushes. Before long green growth appears amid the ashes and by summer’s end there will be little evince of the fire.

The spiritual prairie fire that destroyed our rural churches burned underground, destroying the roots. People forgot that it is not well-paid, educated ministers and big buildings that make a Christian church. It is people, individuals and families, who read their Bible every day and pray to God to help them live what they read. Once that faith has withered and died, there is no need for buildings and preachers.

Still, something will grow in that burned over ground. We say we don’t like what we see growing around us, so let’s be like the sower in the parable Jesus told and scatter the precious seed wherever we go.

Facing up to the bull

One year in my late teens I spent several months working for farmers. I drove the truck for one during harvest. Then I spent a month on a cattle farm, putting up hay, fixing fences, things like that.

The fences were in bad shape. The first day, the big Hereford bull walked through the fence to graze the greener grass on the other side. I had heard and read enough scary stories about what a bull could do that the sight of this guy filled me with a sense of impending trouble.

Then the farmer said “Put that bull back in the pasture.”

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Image by Olichel Adamovich from Pixabay

I was shaking, but I didn’t want to admit that a grown fellow like me was afraid of a bull. So I prayed. At that point in my life I only prayed when fear overwhelmed me.

Then I walked toward the bull. He looked up, shook his head–then ambled along the fence line toward the gate. I went ahead of him, opened the gate, he walked into the pasture and I closed the gate.

That was my daily task after that; when supper time came, I first helped the bull  go back where he belonged. The bull and I never became friends, but he knew the routine and was always cooperative. That stretch of fence was the last one fixed.

In later years I have faced other bulls in my life, in the form of thoughts. My father was prone to unpredictable outbursts of anger. That seems to have left a hook within me where fears of how other people might react in anger can fasten themselves. Other destructive thought patterns became a routine in my life.

In time I realized that these are tempting and tormenting spirits from the realm of darkness. I don’t want them, but my willpower is not enough on its own to overcome them.

So I pray. Then tell those thoughts to go away. By the grace of God they do.  The next day I have to rebuke them again. Victory comes through Jesus Christ, but the battles repeat day by day.

Jesus said: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me,” (Luke 9:23).

Meeting God in His Word

I grew up in a home where the Bible was read every day and we attended the Anglican Church every Sunday. I became a member of that church when I was 11; a few years later I became an altar boy and continued faithfully until I moved away from home to attend university.

There was a time when God seemed very near, yet never did it seem like a connection was made. After I left home, I lost connection with the church and with the Bible. It seemed to me that most churches talked a lot about God, but followed a path that didn’t have much to do with God. The Bible was suspect, too. Perhaps some of it was inspired by God, but it seemed to contradict itself, most of it must be the opinions of those who wrote it.

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When I was 24, I borrowed a well-worn Bible from my parents and began reading it again to try and sort out what was really the Word of God and what was man-made additions. After several years I knew that was an impossible task. This book, written by 40 different people over a period of 1,500 years, was only one book. Every part of the Bible was connected to every other part. It was either the Word of God from beginning to end, or entirely a man-made fraud.

The second option seemed less and less tenable as I saw how the Bible explained itself as I read the whole thing. The so-called contradictions disappeared as I began to discern a purpose in them and see how God had revealed Himself step by step to recalcitrant mankind.

Then came the day in 1970 when I was reading the Bible and God pointed His finger directly at me and told me I was a sinner. And I knew it was true. On my knees I admitted to God that all that had gone wrong in my life was my fault and no one else’s. That was the point where my relationship with God began.

That relationship has grown over the years. I have read the Bible through many times, in both French and English. I don’t follow any Bible reading plan that leads me skipping hither and yon through the pages of the Bible. It is only meaningful when I read a book of the Bible through and get the whole picture.

From time to time God still points His finger at me and tells me “You’ve been struggling with that temptation, that bad attitude, or that unwillingness, for long enough. It’s time to repent of it, to clean house.” And He gives the grace to do it. I am constantly amazed at His patience, with the people of Bible times and with me.

The purpose of daily reading and meditating on the Word of God is not to learn about God, or to learn how to please God. Our motivation for opening the Bible must be to meet with God, to deepen our acquaintance with Him whose actions and purposes appear on every page, who inspired those 40 men over a millennium and a half to write the things that are in the book. We will learn about God and about how to live a life that is pleasing to Him, but that has to be a result of first learning to know Him in a personal way. The teachings of the Bible will not stick if we do not know the Author.

Lessons for life from the epistle of James

1. If ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. (3:14-15)
No matter how right I am about something, if I let myself become angry and bitter, I am wrong.

2. The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. (1:20)
I may think I am standing up for God’s truth, but if I become angry I am damaging His cause.

3. The trying of your faith worketh patience (1:3)
I can’t increase my patience by avoiding situations that test it. Even if I sometimes fail the test, I should be learning that I can’t trust only in myself in those circumstances.

4. The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. (3:17)
I am not naturally endowed with this kind of wisdom. I must seek it from above, from God.

5. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (4:7)
Why couldn’t I figure out on my own how I should live? Instinctively, I resist the idea of submission to God, it sounds like defeat. I have discovered that my stubborn resistance leads to defeat and submission is the way of victory.

6. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. (5:16)
But others won’t understand me. They don’t know the problems, temptations and frustrations that I have to deal with. But when we share our struggles with one another we realize how much alike we are and that we all face the same spiritual enemy. By prayer we all have access to the power to overcome our doubts, trials and temptations.

7. If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well (2:8)
This is rightly called the royal law. It is the one rule for citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Everything else is just commentary.

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