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Leo on Laurentius: The Kindness of Martyrs

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 2 Timothy 3:12

If stories inspire you, then this one is for you! Laurentius (or Laurence) was the chief deacon of the church in Rome who was martyred in the persecution of Valerian in the year A.D. 258. Here Leo the Great (c. A.D. 450) reflects on the kindness and most valuable example of marytrs in his sermon on the feast day that remembers Laurentius because “examples are stronger than words, and there is more teaching in practice than in precept.” Notice how greed motivated the persecutions and the price Laurentius paid for his generous example of care for the poor.

“Whilst the height of all virtues, dearly-beloved, and the fulness of all righteousness is born of that love, wherewith GOD and one’s neighbour is loved, surely in none is this love found more conspicuous and brighter than in the blessed martyrs; who are as near to our LORD Jesus, Who died for all men, in the imitation of His love, as in the likeness of their suffering.

For, although that love, wherewith the LORD has redeemed us, cannot be equalled by any man’s kindness, because it is one thing that a man who is doomed to die one day should die for a righteous man, and another that One Who is free from the debt of sin should lay down His life for the wicked: yet the martyrs also have done great service to all men, in that the LORD Who gave them boldness, has used it to show that the penalty of death and the pain of the cross need not be terrible to any of His followers, but might be imitated by many of them.

If therefore no good man is good for himself alone, and no wise man’s wisdom befriends himself only, and the nature of true virtue is such that it leads many away from the dark error on which its light is shed, no model is more useful in teaching GOD’S people than that of the martyrs. Eloquence may make intercession easy, reasoning may effectually persuade; but yet examples are stronger than words, and there is more teaching in practice than in precept.

And how gloriously strong in this most excellent manner of doctrine the blessed martyr Laurentius is, by whose sufferings today is marked, even his persecutors were able to feel, when they found that his wondrous courage, born principally of love for Christ, not only did not yield itself, but also strengthened others by the example of his endurance.

For when the fury of the gentile potentates was raging against Christ’s most chosen members, and attacked those especially who were of priestly rank, the wicked persecutor’s wrath was vented on Laurentius the deacon, who was preeminent not only in the performance of the sacred rites, but also in the management of the church’s property, promising himself double spoil from one man’s capture: for if he forced him to surrender the sacred treasures, he would also drive him out of the pale of true religion.

And so this man, so greedy of money and such a foe to the truth, arms himself with double weapon: with avarice to plunder the gold; with impiety to carry off Christ. He demands of the guileless guardian of the sanctuary that the church wealth on which his greedy mind was set should be brought to him. But the holy deacon showed him where he had them stored, by pointing to the many troops of poor saints, in the feeding and clothing of whom he had a store of riches which he could not lose, and which were the more entirely safe that the money had been spent on so holy a cause.

The baffled plunderer, therefore, frets, and blazing out into hatred of a religion, which had put riches to such a use, determines to pillage a still greater treasure by carrying off that sacred deposit, wherewith he was enriched, as he could find no solid hoard of money in his possession. He orders Laurentius to renounce Christ, and prepares to ply the deacon’s stout courage with frightful tortures: and, when the first elicit nothing, fiercer follow. His limbs, torn and mangled by many cutting blows, are commanded to be broiled upon the fire in an iron framework, which was of itself already hot enough to burn him, and on which his limbs were turned from time to time, to make the torment fiercer, and the death more lingering.

Thou gainest nothing, thou prevailest nothing, O savage cruelty. His mortal frame is released from thy devices, and, when Laurentius departs to heaven, thou art vanquished. The flame of Christ’s love could not be overcome by thy flames, and the fire which burnt outside was less keen than that which blazed within.”

Leo the Great (c. 400-461) in Sermon LXXXV on the feast day remembering Laurentius.

What are the lessons for us today?

I leave you with three, the first of which bears repeating: “examples are stronger than words, and there is more teaching in practice than in precept.” If you want to live a generous life, do it in actions, not merely words or principles.

Secondly, “sacred deposits” are people and not money. Laurentius had poured the revenues of the church into people. The early church won the world by using money to care for people. Life is short, so let us use what we have to show God’s love to people.

Thirdly, “wondrous courage” is “born principally of love for Christ.” If you want to leave the most generous example in an increasingly anti-Christian world, then focus on one thing: the love of Christ. Your generosity may lead to suffering, but your impact will grow exponentially in this life and your eternal reward will far surpass any momentary difficulty.

Yesterday was a great day with Shawn Manley, who now serves with me as CFO/COO of Global Trust Partners. I am praising God for how He is bringing the people together for that effort. We are still praying for provision to launch the organizational efforts more formally in July. Thanks for your prayers for that.

Today I fly with Jenni to Orlando, Florida, to host a Korean delegation visiting Warner University, where my brother serves as president. The Koreans are dear friends of ours. We were invited to host them for a brief visit so it is our privilege. It will be great to see my parents and my brother and his wife too.

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Gregory the Great: Give thanks to God even in the midst of trials

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18

“Let us look a little deeper and ask ourselves why Job underwent so many trials when he practiced virtue so diligently and was above reproach. He was certainly humble, for he testifies of himself, “I did not consider it demeaning to answer my male or female slave when they complained against me [Job 31:13].” He also maintains that he showed hospitality, saying, “The pilgrim did not remain outside, but the entrance to my house lay open for the traveler [Job 31:32].” He was an upholder of discipline, as he indicates, saying, “Princes stopped in midspeech and put their hands on their mouths [Job 29:9].” He tempered strictness with kindness, saying, “I sat like a king with his army standing around, yet I was the comforter of the afflicted [Job 29:25].” He showed generosity in almsgiving, as he intimates in saying, “I did not eat my bread alone, but shared it with the orphan [Job 31:17].”

Therefore, although he fulfilled injunctions to observe all the virtues, he needed one thing more: to give thanks to God even in the midst of trials. He was well known as a man who could serve God in the midst of his gifts, but it was fitting that a stern regime should discover whether his devotion to God would endure in the midst of trials. Pain, indeed, is the test of the true love of any peaceful person. The enemy asked for Job so that he might trip him up; his petition was granted, but only so that he might make further progress. The Lord in His kindness allowed to happen what the devil in his wickedness asked for. The enemy had claimed Job in order to consume him, but in tempting him Job only obtained the increase of his merits. For it is written, “in all this Job did not sin with his lips [Job 1:22].”

Gregory the Great (c. 540-604) in the Moral Reflections on the Book of Job, translated by Brian Kerns (Athens: Cistercian Publications, 2014) 62-63.

I have officially returned to my word for the year, kindness, and will continue to explore its relationship to generosity in writings through church history.

Someone asked me this question recently: “What’s the hardest part about starting a new organization?” I replied, “Every day has a new and unexpected set of challenges, which can feel overwhelming.”

Challenges transform us as people. God cares what is happening in our hearts, especially when it comes to our giving. He wants our generosity to include giving thanks to Him in all circumstances. What does this look like in your life?

I am learning to set each day’s challenges at His feet, to ask for aid, and trust in Him with thankfulness rather than allow it to overwhelm me. Praying a Psalm at each divine hour has help me immensely in this regard.

If you have a lot going on, life seems crazy, or you are in a busy season. I would urge you to increase your time in prayer, Scripture reading, and giving thanks to God. See what happens in you as a result.

For about 20 hours I am blessed to host Shawn Manley visiting from Puyallup, WA. He’s a faithful reader of these Daily Meditations, and the new part-time CFO/COO of Global Trust Partners.

We are going to spend lots of time praying as God is stretching us. All this is part of His kindness to us. Pray with us for spiritual discernment and fruitful discussions regarding various important matters. Thanks.

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Augustine of Hippo: Don’t imitate the majority

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:13-14

“Choose for yourselves those in the people of God whom you would imitate. Because if you decide to imitate the majority, you will not find yourselves among the few who walk along the narrow road.”

Augustine of Hippo (354-430) in Sermon 224: “On The Octave of Easter.” This excerpt comes from a sermon Augustine preached to new converts the Sunday after Easter.

Consider the gravity of his message. Many people in church are taking the wide road to navigate life. They think they can be a Christian and conform to the patterns in this world. Nothing could be further from the truth!

In the wake of Easter, ask God to help you discern if your generosity looks like the world or looks distinctly Christian. What would the narrow road of Christian generosity look like?

Statistics show that the majority of so-called Christians in America today store up wealth on earth just like the world instead of serving as a conduit of blessing. They have rationalized partial obedience which is complete disobedience.

With Augustine, I would urge them instead to take the narrow road marked by obedience. But, be warned! Many among the people of God will distance themselves from you for your obedience reminds them of their own disobedience.

Don’t worry what others think of you and your generosity in light of Easter. Just care about what the risen Christ told you to do. Remember that He’s watching what you do and has promised to look after you.

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Augustine of Hippo: Don’t imitate the majority

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:13-14

“Choose for yourselves those in the people of God whom you would imitate. Because if you decide to imitate the majority, you will not find yourselves among the few who walk along the narrow road.”

Augustine of Hippo (354-430) in Sermon 224: “On The Octave of Easter.” This excerpt comes from a sermon Augustine preached to new converts the Sunday after Easter.

Consider the gravity of his message. Many people in church are taking the wide road to navigate life. They think they can be a Christian and conform to the patterns in this world. Nothing could be further from the truth!

In the wake of Easter, ask God to help you discern if your generosity looks like the world or looks distinctly Christian. What would the narrow road of Christian generosity look like?

Statistics show that the majority of so-called Christians in America today store up wealth on earth just like the world instead of serving as a conduit of blessing. They have rationalized partial obedience which is complete disobedience.

With Augustine, I would urge them instead to take the narrow road marked by obedience. But, be warned! Many among the people of God will distance themselves from you for your obedience reminds them of their own disobedience.

Don’t worry what others think of you and your generosity in light of Easter. Just care about what the risen Christ told you to do. Remember that He’s watching what you do and has promised to look after you.

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Basil of Caesarea: Our Response to the Resurrection

They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. Acts 14:21-23

“Devote yourself entirely to the Lord: give in your name: be enrolled in the list of the church. The soldier’s name is enrolled: the champion enters on the combat, after his name has been inscribed on the lists: a naturalized citizen is registered on the city books. By all these titles you are bound to give in your name, as a soldier of Christ, a champion of piety, and one who aspires to citizenship in heaven. Have it inscribed on this book, that it may be inscribed above.

Learn, be instructed in the evangelical discipline, restraint of the eyes, government of the tongue, the subduing of the body, lowliness of mind, purity of heart, annihilation of pride. When constrained to do any thing, add cheerfully something to what is exacted: when despoiled of your property, do not have recourse to litigation: repay hatred by love: when persecuted, forbear: when insulted, entreat.

Be dead to sin: be crucified together with Christ: fix your whole affection on the Lord. But these things are difficult: what good thing is easy? Who ever raised a trophy while asleep: who ever, while indulging in luxury and music, was adorned with the crowns of valor? No one, without running, can gain the prize: brave struggles merit glory: combats win crowns. “Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of heaven:” but the beatitude of the heavenly kingdom succeeds these tribulations: while the pain and sorrow of hell follow the labors of sin.

If any one consider it attentively, he will find that not even the works of the devil are performed by the workers of iniquity without toil. What exertion does continence require? The voluptuous man, on the contrary, is exhausted by indulgence. Does continence diminish our strength in a like degree as detestable and unbridled passion wastes it away?

Sleepless nights are, indeed, passed by those who devote themselves to vigils and prayers; but how much more wearisome are the nights of such as are wakeful for iniquity? The fear of detection, and the anxiety for indulgence, utterly take away all rest. If, fleeing the narrow path which leads to salvation, you pursue the broad way of sin, I fear lest continuing on it to the end, you come to an inn suitable to the road.

But you will say: the treasure is hard to be guarded. Be vigilant, then, brother: you have aids, if you will — prayer as a night sentinel — fasting a house guard — psalmody a guide of your soul. Take these along with you: they will keep watch with you, to guard your precious treasures. Tell me, which is it better to be rich, and anxiously to guard our wealth, or not to have any thing to preserve? No one, through fear of being despoiled of his property, abandons it altogether.

If men in each of their pursuits considered the misfortunes that may ensue, all human enterprise would cease. Agriculture is liable to the failure of the crops: shipwreck may defeat commerce: widowhood may soon follow marriage: orphanage may prevent the education of children. We, however, embark in each undertaking, cherishing the fairest hopes, and committing the realizing of them to God, who regulates all things. But you profess to venerate holiness, while in reality you continue among the reprobate.”

Basil the Great (330-379) bishop of Caesarea and doctor of the Eastern Church in “Sermon 13: Exhortation to Baptism” translated by Francis Patrick Kenrick.

As I read the sermon for Easter, Basil got to preaching and I loved it, so I included a large section for today’s post. In the heart of it, he notes that aids for the hard journey of the faith are vigilant prayer, fasting, and the right handing of riches. These disciplines are crucial for life after Lent.

The sad reality is that many will hear the message of the resurrection and respond by professing “to venerate holiness” but in reality continue among the “reprobate”. They will live like the world. They will “anxiously” guard wealth and be “exhausted by indulgence.”

People often ask me why I don’t get weary from all the travel. As today’s Scripture notes, the work of making disciples strengthens both God’s workers and those they serve. The life of sin and self-centeredness is what wearies a person, as Basil notes. It wears them out rather than building them up.

On this Easter Sunday, with Basil I urge you: “Devote yourself entirely to the Lord.” This takes a lot of learning. “Learn, be instructed in the evangelical discipline, restraint of the eyes, government of the tongue, the subduing of the body, lowliness of mind, purity of heart, annihilation of pride.”

With Basil, I conclude: “Be dead to sin: be crucified together with Christ: fix your whole affection on the Lord. But these things are difficult: what good thing is easy?” The saints in the stained glass windows of this church counted the cost and paid the price. They paved the way. Let us join them and take the narrow path.

We abandon all other attachments to follow because that is the only right response to the resurrection. Christ is risen!

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Greg Dues: Vigil

On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Psalm 63:6

“The annual celebration of the Lord’s resurrection goes back to the first generation of Christianity. For the first three centuries this was the only feast observed throughout the church. The original celebration of what would become Easter was done by way of a vigil (Latin vigilia, “a watch,” or “waiting”). It was natural that Christians chose the night hours to celebrate their religious experience of Christ victorious over death and sin and their victory along with his. It was during those dark hours, turning into the first day of the week (Sunday) that this mystery had occurred.”

Greg Dues in Lent and Easter (New London: Twenty Third Publications) 21.

I shot the new header photo at the “Stations of the Cross” service at the Basilica in downtown Denver. It was a peaceful place of prayer.

When our discipline of prayer is a vigil, or watching and a waiting, we demonstrate that we have come to realize (with the first Christians) that we don’t just pray before the work, prayer is the work.

This is a vital posture to continue in life after Lent, that is, a posture of prayer. We watch and we wait.

The Lenten journey has taught us to set aside our desires (fasting) and to watch and wait for God to reveal His will to us (prayer), which positions us to receive first. Then, we can live generously (almsgiving) in life after Lent.

May your Easter Saturday be a special time of waiting and watching. Take time to wait and watch and celebrate the resurrection every day in life after Lent, as God’s faithfulness to us is new every morning.

And I hope prayer in ordinary time becomes a nonstop vigil. Watching and waiting in quietness and trust for anything and everything you need.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Cross and Every Christian

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

“The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death — we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise God-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) in Cost of Discipleship (New York: Macmillan, 1979) 99. This is another one of my top ten books of all time. I found the PDF online, so you can click to read it.

Life begins when we die to self and the attachments of this world. The world thinks that such “dying” or “letting go” will leave us empty, when in reality, that’s when we tap into unfathomable abundance and enrichment.

As you think about the cross today, remind yourself, in the words of the Apostle Paul that you are crucified with Christ, that you no longer live but Christ lives in you. This new life is lived by faith in Jesus who loved you and gave His life for you.

Only when we are unattached to this world and attached to Christ can we become conduits of Christian generosity. We dispense the love and life of Christ. Thanks to Good Friday, we can spread spiritual and material blessings generously.

To experience the cross today, I will do “the Stations” with Jenni. I fly home from Dallas (pictured above) to Denver this morning and at noon we will go to the Cathedral Basilica in Denver for the Stations of the Cross service.

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Luigi Orione: Pray Nonstop

Pray without ceasing. 1 Thessalonians 5:17

“Without Prayer nothing good is done. God’s works are done with our hands joined, and on our knees. Even when we run, we must remain spiritually kneeling before Him.”

Luigi Orione (1872-1940) in Prayer: Teach Us To Pray, by Terry R. Lynch (North Charleston: CreateSpace, 2013) 18.

Someone asked me this week about praying the divine hours. Later, I thought about the fact that it’s only a tiny fraction of the day, seven small snippets.

The Apostle Paul urged the Thessalonians to pray nonstop. Orione reminds us that “without prayer nothing good is done.” What role will prayer have in your life after Lent?

Today is a full day of teaching for me. I am learning that preparation means extra time for prayer this morning asking God to prepare me, cultivate hearts, and pour out the Holy Spirit.

My preparation communicates what I believe. If my prep is all about me, then I really think I’m the agent at work. When my prep centers on fasting and prayer, I have hope to teach with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Whether the good works God has prepared for you to today are your service, your giving, or some other facet of generosity, don’t even think of doing it without prayer. Pray nonstop.

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J.B. Lightfoot on the Didache: Fasting and Prayer Rhythms

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14

“Let not your fastings be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and the fifth day of the week; but keep your fast on the fourth and on the preparation day (Friday). And do not pray like the hypocrites, but pray as the Lord commanded in His Gospel. Our Father, who are in heaven, hallowed be Your name; Your kingdom come; Your will be done, as in heaven, so also on earth; give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debt, as we also forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one; for Yours is the power and the glory for ever and ever. Pray thus three times in the day.”

The Didache, or Teaching of the Apostles 8:1-11. On this text, viewed by scholars as the proverbial discipleship manual of the early church, J.B. Lightfoot offers these notes (18).

“Chapter 8 suggests that fasts are not to be on Monday and Thursday “with the hypocrites” – presumably non-Christian Jews – but on Wednesday and Friday. Nor must Christians pray with their Judaic brethren, instead they shall say the Lord’s Prayer three times a day. The text of the prayer is not identical to the version in the Gospel of Matthew, and it is given with the doxology “for Thine is the power and the glory for ever.” The Didache is the main source for the inclusion of the doxology. It does not occur within the oldest copies of the texts of Matthew and Luke. Most biblical scholars agree that it was included as a result of a later edit.”

At least four insights surface in this ancient document and modern commentary for us.

Firstly, fasting and giving can lead to pride. We must not allow this to occur in our hearts in life after Lent. The Pharisee in today’s Scripture was clearly prideful and expected answers from God based on his merit rather than God’s mercy. Don’t go there.

Secondly, we find the early church fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays to differentiate themselves from the “the hypocrites” (presumably non-Christian Jews) who fasted on Mondays and Thursdays. Fasting was a Christian rhythm that aimed to point people to Christ.

Thirdly, ever wonder why the phrase “for Thine is the power and the glory for ever” is not in your Bible but a part of tradition. This ancient document is likely the source of the ending of the prayer not found in Scripture. Everyone prayed it so it found its way into manuscripts.

Fourthly, three times a day (likely 9 am, 12 noon, and 3 pm) Christ followers would pause to pray the Lord’s prayer. Try it sometime. When you do this, throughout the course of your day, it’s like resetting your mind and heart to depend on God.

What will your fasting and prayer rhythms be in life after Lent?

Choose a discipline. If you don’t your schedule will just get filled with other things. I would encourage you to consider fasting twice a week and pausing to pray 3 times (or even 7 times) a day in life after Lent. Do this because God does not need our money or our fasting or hollow prayers. He wants our hearts.

These disciplines transform us into people who surrender our will, release financial resources, and have God’s heart. Only once that happens, do we exhibit Christian generosity. We serve others selflessly like Jesus with kindness and allow His money and other blessings to flow freely through us to the people and causes He cares about.

We do this to present Him as the power and the glory of our lives for ever and ever.

I am flying to Dallas today to meet with various Christian workers at the Christian Leadership Alliance Outcomes Conference and to speak tomorrow in an all-day session with Wes Willmer and Greg Henson on our book, The Council: A Biblical Perspective on Board Governance.

Thanks for your prayers for safe travel, receptive hearts, and Spirit-filled teaching.

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D.L. Moody: Full Already or Empty

And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. Acts 13:52

“I believe firmly, that the moment our hearts are emptied of pride and selfishness and ambition and self-seeking, and everything that is contrary to God’s law, the Holy Ghost will come and fill every corner of our hearts; but if we are full of pride and conceit, and ambition and self-seeking, and pleasure and the world, there is no room for the Spirit of God; and I believe many a man is praying to God to fill him when he is full already with something else. Before we pray that God would fill us, I believe we ought to pray Him to empty us.”

D.L. Moody (1837-1899) in “Secret Power or The Secret Success in Christian Life and Work,” excerpt from chapter two, in The D.L. Moody Collection (Karpathos Collection: Pronoun, 2015).

During Holy Week we journey with Jesus who surrendered His will for the will of the Father. That’s what happens with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We empty ourselves, we set aside our desires, and we ask God to fill us.

As you journey to the cross this week, I hope you are not full already. Start by asking Jesus to empty you of everything, your self and worldly attachments, so that the Spirit can fill every nook and cranny of your being.

This will position you for life after Lent. Your generosity will reflect an abandonment of your agenda, your pride, and your ambitions. Father, empty us. Spirit, fill us. Do this we ask in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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