Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Dr. John Stott: Sermon delivered at the Keswick Convention July 17th 2007.
I remember very vividly, some years ago, that the question which perplexed me as a younger Christian (and some of my friends as well) was this: what is God’s purpose for His people? Granted that we have been converted, granted that we have been saved and received new life in Jesus Christ, what comes next? Of course, we knew the famous statement of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever: we knew that, and we believed it. We also toyed with some briefer statements, like one of only five words – love God, love your neighbour. But somehow neither of these, nor some others that we could mention, seemed wholly satisfactory. So I want to share with you where my mind has come to rest as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth and it is – God wants His people to become like Christ. Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God.
So if that is true, I am proposing the following: first to lay down the biblical basis for the call to Christlikeness: secondly, to give some New Testament examples of this; thirdly, to draw some practical conclusions. And it all relates to becoming like Christ.
So first is the biblical basis for the call to Christlikeness. This basis is not a single text: the basis is more substantial than can be encapsulated in a single text. The basis consists rather of three texts which we would do well to hold together in our Christian thinking and living: Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:18 and 1 John 3:2. Let's look at these three briefly.
Romans 8:29 reads that God has predestined His people to be conformed to the image of His Son: that is, to become like Jesus. We all know that when Adam fell he lost much – though not all – of the divine image in which he had been created. But God has restored it in Christ. Conformity to the image of God means to become like Jesus: Christlikeness is the eternal predestinating purpose of God.
My second text is 2 Corinthians 3:18: ‘And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness, from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.’ So it is by the indwelling Spirit Himself that we are being changed from glory to glory – it is a magnificent vision. In this second stage of becoming like Christ, you will notice that the perspective has changed from the past to the present, from God’s eternal predestination to His present transformation of us by the Holy Spirit. It has changed from God’s eternal purpose to make us like Christ, to His historical work by His Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of Jesus.
That brings me to my third text: 1 John 3:2. ‘Beloved, we are God’s children now and it does not yet appear what we shall be but we know that when he appears, we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is.’ We don’t know in any detail what we shall be in the last day, but we do know that we will be like Christ. There is really no need for us to know any more than this. We are content with the glorious truth that we will be with Christ, like Christ, for ever.
Here are three perspectives – past, present and future. All of them are pointing in the same direction: there is God’s eternal purpose, we have been predestined; there is God’s historical purpose, we are being changed, transformed by the Holy Spirit; and there is God’s final or eschatalogical purpose, we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. All three, the eternal, the historical and the eschatalogical, combine towards the same end of Christlikeness. This, I suggest, is the purpose of God for the people of God. That is the biblical basis for becoming like Christ: it is the purpose of God for the people of God.
I want to move on to illustrate this truth with a number of New Testament examples. First, I think it is important for us to make a general statement, as the apostle John does in 1 John 2:6: ‘he who says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way as he walked.’ In other words, if we claim to be a Christian, we must be Christlike. Here is the first New Testament example: we are to be like Christ in his Incarnation.
Some of you may immediately recoil in horror from such an idea. Surely, you will say to me, the Incarnation was an altogether unique event and cannot possibly be imitated in any way? My answer to that question is yes and no. Yes, it was unique, in the sense that the Son of God took our humanity to himself in Jesus of Nazareth, once and for all and forever, never to be repeated. That is true. But there is another sense in which the Incarnation was not unique: the amazing grace of God in the Incarnation of Christ is to be followed by all of us. The Incarnation, in that sense, was not unique but universal. We are all called to follow the example of His great humility in coming down from heaven to earth. So Paul could write in Philippians 2:5-8: ‘Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God some thing to be grasped for his own selfish enjoyment, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.’ We are to be like Christ in his Incarnation in the amazing self-humbling which lies behind the Incarnation.
Secondly, we are to be like Christ in His service. We move on now from his Incarnation to His life of service; from His birth to His life, from the beginning to the end. Let me invite you to come with me to the upper room where Jesus spent his last evening with His disciples, recorded in John’s gospel chapter 13: ‘He took off his outer garments, he tied a towel round him, he poured water into a basin and washed his disciples’ feet. When he had finished, he resumed his place and said, “If then I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet, for I have given you an example’ – notice the word – ‘ that you should do as I have done to you.’
Some Christians take Jesus’ command literally and have a foot-washing ceremony in their Lord’s Supper once a month or on Maundy Thursday – and they may be right to do it. But I think most of us transpose Jesus’ command culturally: that is just as Jesus performed what in His culture was the work of a slave, so we in our cultures must regard no task too menial or degrading to undertake for each other.
Thirdly, we are to be like Christ in His love. I think particularly now of Ephesians 5:2 – ‘walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.’ Notice that the text is in two parts. The first part is walk in love, an injunction that all our behaviour should be characterised by love, but the second part of the verse says that He gave Himself for us, which is not a continuous thing but an aorist, a past tense, a clear reference to the cross. Paul is urging us to be like Christ in his death, to love with self-giving Calvary love. Notice what is developing: Paul is urging us to be like the Christ of the Incarnation, to be like the Christ of the foot washing and to be like the Christ of the cross. These three events of the life of Christ indicate clearly what Christlikeness means in practice.
Fourthly, we are to be like Christ in His patient endurance. In this next example we consider not the teaching of Paul but of Peter. Every chapter of the first letter of Peter contains an allusion to our suffering like Christ, for the background to the letter is the beginnings of persecution. In chapter 2 of 1 Peter in particular, Peter urges Christian slaves, if punished unjustly, to bear it and not to repay evil for evil. For, Peter goes on, you and we have been called to this because Christ also suffered, leaving us an example – there is that word again – so that we may follow in His steps. This call to Christlikeness in suffering unjustly may well become increasingly relevant as persecution increases in many cultures in the world today.
My fifth and last example from the New Testament is that we are to be like Christ in His mission. Having looked at the teaching of Paul and Peter, we come now to the teaching of Jesus recorded by John. In John 20:21, in prayer, Jesus said ‘As you, Father, have sent me into the world, so I send them into the world’ – that is us. And in his commissioning in John 17 he says ‘As the Father sent me into the world, so I send you.’ These words are immensely significant. This is not just the Johannine version of the Great Commission but it also an instruction that their mission in the world was to resemble Christ’s mission. In what respect? The key words in these texts are ’sent into the world’. As Christ had entered our world, so we are to enter other people’s worlds. It was eloquently explained by Archbishop Michael Ramsey some years ago: ‘We state and commend the faith only in so far as we go out and put ourselves with loving sympathy inside the doubts of the doubters, the questions of the questioners and the loneliness of those who have lost the way.’
This entering into other people’s worlds is exactly what we mean by incarnational evangelism. All authentic mission is incarnational mission. We are to be like Christ in his mission. These are the five main ways in which we are to be Christlike: in His Incarnation, in His service, in His love, in His endurance and in His mission.
Very briefly, I want to give you three practical consequences of Christlikeness.
Firstly, Christlikeness and the mystery of suffering. Suffering is a huge subject in itself and there are many ways in which Christians try to understand it. One way stands out: that suffering is part of God’s process of making us like Christ. Whether we suffer from a disappointment, a frustration or some other painful tragedy, we need to try to see this in the light of Romans 8:28-29. According to Romans 8:28, God is always working for the good of his people, and according to Romans 8:29, this good purpose is to make us like Christ.
Secondly, Christlikeness and the challenge of evangelism. Why is it, you must have asked, as I have, that in many situations our evangelistic efforts are often fraught with failure? Several reasons may be given and I do not want to over-simplify but one main reason is that we don’t look like the Christ we are proclaiming. John Poulton, who has written about this in a perceptive little book entitled A today sort of evangelism, wrote this:
‘The most effective preaching comes from those who embody the things they are saying. They are their message. Christians need to look like what they are talking about. It is people who communicate primarily, not words or ideas. Authenticity gets across. deep down in side people, what communicates now is basically personal authenticity.’
That is Christlikeness. Let me give you another example. There was a Hindu professor in India who once identified one of his students as a Christian and said to him: ‘If you Christians lived like Jesus Christ, India would be at your feet tomorrow.’ I think India would be at their feet today if we Christians lived like Christ. From the Islamic world, the Reverend Iskandar Jadeed, a former Arab Muslim, has said ‘If all Christians were Christians – that is, Christlike – there would be no more Islam today.’
That brings me to my third point – Christlikeness and the indwelling of the Spirit. I have spoken much tonight about Christlikeness but is it attainable? In our own strength it is clearly not attainable but God has given us his Holy Spirit to dwell within us, to change us from within. William Temple, Archbishop in the 1940s, used to illustrate this point from Shakespeare:
‘It is no good giving me a play like Hamlet or King Lear and telling me to write a play like that. Shakespeare could do it – I can’t. And it is no good showing me a life like the life of Jesus and telling me to live a life like that. Jesus could do it – I can’t. But if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like this. And if the Spirit could come into me, then I could live a life like His.’
So I conclude, as a brief summary of what we have tried to say to one another: God’s purpose is to make us like Christ. God’s way to make us like Christ is to fill us with his Spirit. In other words, it is a Trinitarian conclusion, concerning the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
'Look, the virgin shall conceive and
bear a son,
and they shall name him
which means, 'God is with us.'
I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
I am the bread of life...
I am the light of the world...
I came from God and now I am here.
I did not come on my own, but he sent me.
I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved...
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
I am the good shepherd....
I know my own and my own know me... I lay down my life for the sheep.
The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son do es not honor the Father who sent him. Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life. Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.
To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.
Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ... These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name... He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers - all things have been created through him and for him.
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
I believe that You are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.
Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
Isaiah 9:6; Matthew 1:23; John 14:6; John 6:35; John 8:12; John 8:42; John 10: 9-15; John 3:35,36; John 5:19-26; John 1:12,17; John 20:31; Colossians 1:15-16; Ephesians 1:20-21; Hebrews 13:8; John 11:27; John 14:23.
Ask almost anyone, anywhere, which individual has done most to change the course of history, and the answer will almost invariably be, 'Jesus of Nazareth.'
Who was this Jew from an ancient, frontier province of the Roman Empire who has left such an indelible mark upon the earth? Well, first let's get one thing straight: the man Jesus actually lived, and the histories describing his life (mainly the four gospels in the New Testament) are regarded by the overwhelming majority of scholars - Christian or not - as reliable.
And he was a real person: an extravert who enjoyed the company of others, but who also spent hours and days and weeks in solitary prayer; an angry man who would not tolerate hypocrisy and injustice, but also a tender, compassionate friend of the downtrodden; a brilliant teacher and debater, but also 'down-to-earth'; a man who was tempted in every way others are, but, his friends asserted, remained sinless; a man who was truly masculine (prepared to take the fight up to his enemies) and also in touch with the feminine in his personality (there is no woman in the Gospels who was ever his enemy).
But Jesus said he was more than a man: he claimed divinity. Now that's not odd: psychiatrists counsel many people who have delusions of grandeur. But this man was different: he was not a 'nut-case'. In fact, he comes across to his contemporaries and to us as a very-well-put- together person indeed.
Now if Jesus was God, a lot follows. He was God's Word that caused the cosmos to come into being; he is God's Life that holds everything together; he will the Resurrector and Judge of the living and the dead. He offers us eternal life, and a deep peace, and forgiveness of our sins, and trouble. You'd better not ignore him.
Athanasius, a great church father, said that when Jesus became one of us he did not subtract deity but rather added humanity. Jesus wasn't less than God, but became something in addition to God, a human being. Byron the poet put it succinctly: 'If ever a man were God or God were man, Jesus was both.'
What was he like? Artists depict him with a sad, pained expression, or with piercing eyes, or with a 'lean, hungry look' or as a wan, 'pale Galilean'. The gospels give us a picture of a sometimes joyful, sometimes weeping, sometimes compassionate, sometimes angry person, a brilliant debater with intellectuals but also down- to-earth, fearless in the company of the powerful, but tender with the down-trodden.
Jesus is Lord. What does that mean? For the first Christians, who lived under the rule of the Roman Empire, the statement 'Jesus is Lord' was a fast ticket to trouble. The empire already had one lord - Caesar - and he didn't want to share his sovereignty with some prophet from a far-off Eastern colony.
To say Jesus is Lord means he's the boss. He has the right to give orders. Your and my response is either to rebel or obey: we make that decision every hour of every day of our lives. So being a Christian isn't just doing what's right: it's doing what Jesus the Lord wants you to do.
'Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.' This old gospel song is still very meaningful. When you 'surrender' to Christ you do not cease to be a fully-functioning person. You are still fully active. You choose to do his will, not because you are forced to, but because you want to. You realize his will is 'good, pleasing and perfect' (Romans 12:2). Surrender to Christ is the only way to a complete, full life.
When the great theologian Karl Barth was asked 'What's the best thought you've ever had?' he would customarily reply, 'Jesus loves me, this I know for the Bible tells me so.' That's the best motivation of all for following Jesus. 'Jesus loves even me!'
Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone and today He is the centrepiece of the human race and the leader of the column of progress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched and all the navies that ever were built, and all the parliaments that ever have sat, and all the kings that ever reigned put together have not affected human life upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life, Jesus of Nazareth.
Anon, quoted in Bill Bright, A Handbook for Christian Maturity, San Bernadino, California: Here's Life Publishers, 1982/1990, p. 28.
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, New York: Macmillan, 1960/1978, p. 56.
Deity is not an easy term to define... But it is not impossible to imagine a line which separates God from all God's creatures, so that on one side is God, and on the other is everything less than God. If we ask on which side of this line Jesus Christ is to be found, the answer given by all the New Testament writers is 'God's side'. They differin their terminology and their habits of thought. They are writing independently. They are not simply copying from one another... Nowhere in the New Testament do we find any such thought as that Jesus is like one of the angels, or that he can be fully explained in purely human terms. With one accord the New Testament writers insist that Jesus must be thought of as God in the fullest sense... This is all the more remarkable in view of their convinced monotheism.
At the same time the early church did not waver in its thought that Jesus was a man. It is not easy to hold this in conjunction with his deity... How these two... are related, or even how they could co-exist in one person, we do not know. The evidence does not indicate that Jesus was partly God and partly man, that he did some things as God and others as man. Rather he was one person, albeit a person with divine and human characteristics.
Leon Morris, The Lord from Heaven, London: Inter-Varsity Fellowship, 1958, p. 109.
I say, the acknowledgement of God in Christ
Accepted by thy reason, solves for thee
All questions in the earth and out of it.
Robert Browning, 'A Death in the Desert', quoted in Margaret Pepper (ed.) The Pan Dictionary of Quotations, London: Pan Books, 1989, p.76.
Apart from Christ we know neither what our life nor our death is; we do not know what God is nor what we ourselves are.
Blaise Pascal, Pensees, quoted in Margaret Pepper (ed.) The Pan Dictionary of Quotations, London: Pan Books, 1989, p.77.
The much-maligned doctrine of the Trinity is an assertion that, appearances to the contrary withstanding, there is only one God.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit mean that the mystery beyond us, the mystery among us, and the mystery within us are all the same mystery. Thus the Trinity is a way of saying something about us and the way we experience God.
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, London, Collins, 1973, p.93.
After the severe storms and floods which Holland suffered in 1952... the dyke had to be strengthened one Sunday. The pastor... found himself is a religious defficulty. Should he call out the people of the parish... and set them to work if it meant profaning the sabbath? Should he, on the contrary, abandon them to destruction in order to honour the sabbath? He... summoned the church council to consult and decide. The discussion went as one might suppose: We live to carry out God's will. God, being omnipotent, can always perform a miracle with the win and waves. Our duty is obedience, whether in life or in death. The pastor tried one last argument, perhaps against his own conviction: Did not Jesus himself, on occasion, break the fourth commandment and declare that the Sabbath was made for [humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath]? Thereupon a venerable old man stood up: 'I have always been troubled, pastor, by something that I have never yet ventured to say publicly. Now I must say it. I have always had the feeling that our Lord Jesus was just a bit of a liberal.'
Ernst Kasemann, Jesus Means Freedom, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972, p. 16.
Jesus does not offer an opinion for he never uttered opinions. He never guessed; he knew, and he knows... To accept Christ is to know the meaning of the words 'as he is, so are we in this world.' We accept his friends as our friends, his enemies as our enemies, his ways as our ways, his rejection as our rejection, his cross as our cross, his life as our life and his future as our future....
A W Tozer, in Harry Verploegh (comp.), Signposts: A Collection of Sayings from A W Tozer, Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1988, pp. 23,25
Christianity began with an encounter. Some people, Jews, came into contact with Jesus of Nazareth. They were fascinated by him and stayed with him. This encounter and what took place in Jesus' life and in connection with his death gave their own lives meaning and significance. They felt that they were reborn, understood and cared for. Their new identity was expressed in a new enthusiasm for the kingdom of God and therefore in a special compassion for others... in a way that Jesus had already showed them. This change in the direction of their lives was the result of their real encounter with Jesus, since without him they would have remained as they were, as they told other people later (see 1 Corinthians 15:17). This was not something over which they had taken the initiative; it had happened to them.
This astonishing and amazing encounter which some people had with Jesus of Nazareth, a man from their own race and religion, becomes the starting point for the view of salvation found in the New Testament. This means that grace and salvation, redemption and religion, need not be expressed in strange, 'supernatural' terms; they can be put into ordinary human language, the language of encounter and experience, above the language of picture and image, testimony and story, never detached from a specific liberating event...
Edward Schillebeeckx, in Robert Schreiter (ed.), The Schillebeeckx Reader, New York: Crossroad, 1987, p. 129.
We have an interesting problem in Spanish with the word lord. Lord is senor (squiggle above n), the same word we use for mister. [So] Senor Lopez runs the gas station on the corner, Senor Rodriguez drives a city bus, and Senor Jesuscristo listens to your prayers.
The result in Spanish is that we have lost the 'lord' concept. To call Jesus the Lord (Senor) doesn't really say anything very strongly.
But since I have come among English-speaking people, I have found that you have the same problem, even though you have two separate words, mister and lord, in your language... The Bible presents Jesus as King, as Lord, as the maximum authority. Jesus is at the very centre.
Juan Carlos Ortiz, Disciple, Carol Stream, Ill.: Creation House, 1975, pp. 11,12.
A ship's captain was once guiding his vessel along a rocky coast on a cloudy night. He peered ahead and saw a faint light. He ordered his signalman to send this message by radio: 'Alter your course ten degrees south.'
Soon a message came back: 'Alter your course ten degrees north.'
The captain was a little disgusted. He sent a second message: 'The captain says, "Alter your course ten degrees south!"'
A second message message came back: 'Seaman Third Class Jones says, "Alter your course ten degrees north."'
The sent the captain into full-scale fuming. 'Alter your course ten degrees north; this is a battleship!' he thundered.
One more reply came back: 'Alter your course ten degrees north; this is the lighthouse.'
Our modern world is full of voices shouting orders into the night, telling others how to live, what to do, how to change. And there is one Voice whose directions seem opposite to the rest... He is the one voice who knows what he's talking about. He is the Light of the world. He is the authority on this treacherous coastline. He is Lord.
Dean Merrill, 'Jesus is Lord' LaVonne Neff et al (eds), Practical Christianity, Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers Inc., 1988, p. 139.
Picture a gloved hand. The glove is a limp piece of leather until the hand moves into the glove and begins to mobilize it. When the hand does something, the glove could say, 'I just picked up my coffee cup,' but it really is not the glove doing it. In a sense, Jesus' living in us is like the hand in the glove. Jesus Christ clothes himself and uses me for his purpose. I want to allow the indwelling Christ to mold me and use me and bend me any way he pleases as long as he accomplishes his will.
Luis Palau, 'The Indwelling Christ', Neff, pp. 149-150.
Arise, shine, for your light has come.
The glory of the Lord is risen upon us...
Great beyond all question is the mystery of our religion; Christ was manifested in the body, vindicated in the spirit, seen by angels.
Christ was proclaimed among the nations, believed in throughout the world, glorified in heaven...
Jesus, you are the good shepherd, you are willing to die for the sheep.
You are the good shepherd; as the Father knows you and you know the Father, in the same way you know your sheep, and your sheep know you; you are willing to die for us.
The Father loves you because you are willing to give your life; no one takes your life from you; you give it up of your own free will; you are the good shepherd.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd who understands our frailty, and knows each one of us by name.
A New Zealand Prayer Book, Auckland, Collins, 1989, pp.114, 107, 128-129.
Almighty ever-living God, our Father, you enlighten all who come into the world. You have given the human race Jesus Christ our Saviour: born of a woman and to die on a cross. In him we see you as you really are. Your Holy Spirit comes into our lives to confirm your reality and teach us your truth.
Jesus fulfilled your will; he was a model of humility; he loved us, even giving his life for us.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Fill my heart with the light of your gospel, that my thoughts may please you, and my love be sincere.
Help me to bear witness to you by following Jesus' example of suffering and make me worthy to share in his resurrection.
Guide my mind by his truth and strengthen my life by the example of his death, that I may live in union with you in the kingdom of your promise.
A Benediction: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:2).
Further reading: Bill Bright, A Handbook for Christian Maturity, Josh McDowell, The Resurrection Factor, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, More Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell and Bart Larson, Jesus, a Biblical Defense of his Deity (all published by Here's Life Publishers, Inc, San Bernadino, California).
Rowland Croucher, GROW! Meditations and Prayers for new Christians, JBCE, 1992, chapter 7
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