The Glorious Familiarity of Home

Every day it’s the same thing.

You leave the office and begin the fight with traffic to go home. At first, you’re thinking about what you left behind—a to-do list that only seemed to grow; responsibilities that will be there in the morning; boxes to be checked, meetings to be had, and calls to be made. You’re thinking about these things as the miles start to click by on the odometer, and then, at some point, your focus changes from where you’ve left to where you’re going.

You’re going home. The road is familiar; you’ve driven it a thousand times before. Then comes the exit where you get off the interstate. Then one turn; then another. Then there’s the left turn where you always have to wait, and you wonder when the gap in the traffic is going to come. And then it does. You’re in your neighborhood. Your street. And then finally, there out your window, is your driveway. There’s the crack in the retaining wall you’ve been thinking about fixing; there’s the yard that always seems to have a few more weeds than it should; there’s the left-out frisbees and scooters that, again, those kids have failed to put away.

And you smile because you’re home. You pull into the garage in that space that’s always a little too tight. You open your door and bang it into the side wall just like you did yesterday, noticing that the paint is finally starting to peel off the car from many such encounters.  You open the back door, and it hits you.

Depending on the season, it’s a blast of either pleasantly cool or warm air. It’s the sight of the same place where you hang your keys up so you won’t forget them (again) tomorrow. And the smell. The smell is the greatest part of all. It’s a smell that reminds you that humans live here, and not just any humans – they’re your humans. This is the smell of your home, and it’s unique to your home. It’s a wash of bodies, scented soaps, laundry detergent, and whatever’s cooking on the stove upstairs. It’s your smell, worn into the walls with a thousand family conversations, a thousand popcorn and movie nights, a thousand wrestling matches on the carpet.

You’re home. And it is glorious.

The familiarity of home is one of those gracious gifts the Lord drips into our lives everyday; it’s one of those things reminding us that here, even if nowhere else, we actually belong. Here we are safe. Here we are loved. And yet at the same time, moments like these point us to the greater realities. We have a better home. It will be more familiar. We will be more safe. And, though we are fully loved now, we will have no more doubt or misplaced expression of that love any more.

We go home, and we are going home.

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This. Is. The. Day.

“This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? But take a look at your schedule. Take a look at your agenda. Take a look at the host of things that simply must be done this day, consider how many of them are part of the regular routine of life, and it becomes more problematic. Rejoice in the paying of the bills? Rejoice in the pick up or drop off line? Rejoice in the folding of the laundry or the making of the lunches? Maybe not.

Combine that with the fact that this might well be the day when everything changes and it becomes even more difficult. This day might be the day of the diagnosis. Or the car accident. Or the conversation. Or the whatever. In as much as you might have a carefully crafted schedule and to-do list, no doubt it will be interrupted today. This day. And those interruptions might do more than just throw your schedule off kilter; they might turn your life upside down.

The statement is simple: This is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Despite its simplicity, the rejoicing of the day is contingent upon the weighty assumptions packed into the first section. It’s only by embracing what’s between the lines of part A that we can really get to part B. Here’s what it might look like:

This is the day.

It will do me no good to wish for another day. A different day. The day that someone else is having. This is the day that I’ve been given. This day, full of the mundane and the ordinary, full of the opportunity unexpected. This one, the one that’s beginning right now, is the day.

That the Lord has made.

Regardless of what this day holds, it is the day that the Lord has made. He is not some cosmic clockmaker who set the universe in motion and then stood apart, watching it tick away. He’s still in the business of making days, and He’s made this one for me. Although I know very little of the potential ups or downs or highs or lows that this day holds, it is nevertheless the one made by the Lord. Because it is made by the Lord, I know that along with making it He has also given me the resources I need for it. I have the grace I need. The patience I require. The perseverance necessary. The discipline to do and work. Along with this day He’s made He has also given me His limitless supply which I take hold of by faith.

I will rejoice and be glad in it.

That’s why I can rejoice. It doesn’t mean everything today will make me happy; none of us are naive enough to believe that. Surely things today will make me frustrated or sad, angry or disappointed. But this is the day. The one that the Lord has made. And because I know something of the nature and character of God, I can rejoice in this day, the one He has made for me, and be glad in it, trusting that though it might not feel like it at the time, everything that happens today has been filtered through the loving hand of a loving God.

Rejoicing in the day at hand means embracing the sovereign work of a loving God. Otherwise, I’ll be wishing for another day. Feeling bombarded by seemingly random circumstances. And I’ll be far from rejoicing when my head hits the pillow tonight.

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Two Traits of God-Honoring Gratitude

Sometimes as a parent, I think, your job is to teach your children the habits and traits that will serve them well in the world. Take, for example, how to handle money. We have tried from an early age to help our kids know how to divide the money they have into a plan, giving some, saving some, devoting some to things they need, and then finally having some set aside to buy things they want.

Or, for example, the way they eat. Our kids have often bemoaned the fact that being a kid means having to eat what they’re told instead of exactly what they want, and how they can’t wait to be an adult so they can have Sprite with every meal and chase everything down with a candy bar. We try to emphasize to them that not only is it not healthy to do so, but actually living like that will reduce the amount they enjoy both their Sprite and candy bars.

Or, in another example, that simple acts of politeness will go a long way for them in the future. Saying “please” and “thank you” are simple, easy ways to not only show respect for others, but also to get what you want in a lot of cases. People respond to that kind of politeness in a world of privilege and entitlement.

These are all good tips for kids to have in their minds, but if we don’t as parents emphasize that there is a spiritual component to all these things, then we are selling them short. If we never help them see the spiritual that drives the tangible actions, then we might be creating good citizens, but we aren’t raising gospel-centered kids. We might be raising kids who are successful in the world, but we aren’t raising kids who are mighty in the kingdom.

It’s not enough, then, to help them manage a personal budget; we must teach them that money is a tool but a seductive one which, if not handled shrewdly, will draw their hearts away from God.

It’s not enough to teach them to eat in a healthy way; we must teach them that their bodies are temples and we must honor them as such.

And it’s not enough to teach them to say please and thank you; we must teach them that these, too are deeply spiritual matters.

These are not just lessons we teach to our children though; they are also for ourselves. When it comes to the last of these things, the issue of gratitude, it is a hard learned lesson indeed. How, then, can we move our gratitude out of the realm of “good advice for a good life” and into the truly God-honoring and spiritual realm it’s meant to exist in? It’s by recognizing at least these two aspects of God-honoring gratitude:

1. Gratitude is a choice.

“Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18). Don’t miss the fact that this verse is not a suggestion; it’s not a maxim; it’s not a trite saying to help you have an attitude of optimism. This is a command. What’s more, Paul says that this is unequivocally God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Among other things, this means that gratitude is bigger than circumstance. Most of the time, in fact, gratitude is a choice you have to make apart from the circumstances you’re in. When everything in your life makes you feel like a victim and the siren song of self-pity creeps up on you, the way you beat it back is through gratitude.

But let’s be careful here lest we think Paul is advocating a kind of gratitude that can very quickly devolve into some kind of positive thinking mumbo jumbo. That’s not godly gratitude; that’s sentimentalism, which leads us to the second thing we must recognize about God-honoring gratitude:

2. Gratitude is rooted in God’s character.

What keeps our gratitude from devolving into sentimentalism? It’s the fact that God-honoring gratitude is rooted in God’s own character. This is what elevates our level of gratitude past circumstance; it’s what lifts our souls with life seems to be caving in. When we center our gratitude on the character of God, then we can trust that He is, despite what our circumstances tell us, working for our good. He is, despite what our circumstances tell us, bringing all things together under Christ. He is, despite what our circumstances tell us, still in control of even the minutia of life. We know this not by what our senses or our feelings tell us, but instead through faith which goes beyond the realm of those senses.

We know this by looking to the cross, where God’s character is most fully and completely displayed. We see at the cross the extent of the justice and wrath rightly directed at us and we see the extent of His grace and love when He redirected that same justice and wrath toward His Son. We look to the cross, and we see God as both just and the One who justifies. When we do, then we are truly thankful.

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Jesus Doesn’t Need Our Protection

“The result of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quiet confidence forever” (Isaiah 32:17).

She didn’t mean to be incendiary. She was just asking a question.

My daughter not long ago during a family discussion about the Bible asked us, “How do we know these stories are actually true?”

The question makes sense; she’s reading all kinds of stories right now from Harry Potter to Fancy Nancy to Prince Caspian. That’s where the question came from; she wanted to know the difference between these stories and the stories we talk about from the Bible.

It was an innocent inquiry, but I felt it – something inside of me starting to rise up. Something a little bit angry. Something more than a little bit defensive.

Ever felt like that? Like you needed to step up and defend Jesus? The disciples certainly did.

  • When some irresponsible parents were letting their children sidle up to Jesus, and the disciples felt the need to protect Jesus from the annoyance.
  • In the garden, Peter was so committed to defending Jesus that it cost a Roman soldier his ear.
  • When Jesus said clearly He would be crucified, Peter again felt the impulse to defend Him from His own words, lest Jesus say something embarrassing.

These defenses of Jesus came from a misunderstanding of His character and mission; they happened because even those closest to Him failed to realize that He was not the conquering king but the suffering servant, and that even (and most especially) the lowest and least had a place with Him. They misunderstood Jesus, and the result was an impulse to defend Him, even if it meant defending Him from Himself.

Of course, that doesn’t mean there’s not a good and right time to stand for the truth of who He is. But in an honest assessment of myself, I find that times like those are very rare indeed. In fact, most of the time when I have the impulse to come to the defense of Jesus it’s not because I’m worried about His reputation; it’s because my eyes are fixed on myself. I am compelled to defend Jesus not out of zeal for His name and glory, but instead these criticisms or questions, innocent though they may be, force me to probe the depths of my own heart. They make me ask myself, Do I really believe this?

That’s when I get defensive. That’s when my advocacy for Jesus is less like quiet confidence and more like anger. That’s when I can verbally chop off the ears of any bystander. It’s during those times, I need to remind myself that Jesus doesn’t need me to protect Him.

In fact, my place is not in front of Jesus with a sword, but behind Him. This is my position in the gospel – not as Jesus’ advocate and defender, but with Him as mine.

Ironically, when I find myself in His shadow instead of running in front of Him, I can answer those questions whether from a little girl at my kitchen table or in society at large, be they innocent or accusatory. I can speak with a quiet confidence in the Son of God, secure in who I am because He is secure in who He is.


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The Formula for Endurance

One of my favorite all time movies is the original Rocky. Long before Rocky fought the Cold War on behalf of the good ole US of A, he was a near illiterate leg-breaker in Philly who just happened to be picked out of a hat by the reigning champion of the world Apollo Creed. Apollo wanted a good show – to give the people a true underdog they could cheer for, all the while thinking the fight would be little more than a blip on his radar. To Rocky, though, the fight was a way out of his life into something better.

So he trained and trained, chasing chickens, eating raw eggs, and rallying the support of the Philadelphia working class behind him. It’s a great movie – maybe the best of the underdog stories.

But if you’ll remember, the end of the fight is almost an afterthought. The fight goes the full distance, and at the end, pandaemonium breaks out in the ring. You can barely hear the announcer in the background give the ruling that the result was a split decision, and the victory would be assigned to Apollo.

That’s right – Rocky lost the fight. But the point isn’t so much whether he won or lost; it’s that he made it the whole time. He wasn’t knocked out; he stood toe to toe with the best and he persevered. He endured.

Endurance is more spiritually important than we sometimes think. In the book of Hebrews, for example, the writer exhorts the suffering and persecuted church over and over again to endure. Remain. Persevere. Stay in the fight until the end. But how do you do that? What’s the formula for endurance? It’s surprisingly simple:

“Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

How do you endure? Fix your eyes on Jesus. Focus on Him, and you’ll keep getting up.

Now when we hear that, the cynic inside all of us rises up and says, “Yeah, but…” It sounds too simple, doesn’t it? Got to be more to it? But perhaps the simplicity in and of itself is what gives this formula its credibility. We have the luxury of overthinking so many things in life, and in so doing, we can analyze many things to the point of ineffectiveness. Let’s not do that with this. Because when you fix your eyes on Jesus, all those things in your peripheral vision have a tendency to become a little more unfocused.

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I Am Barabbas

He’s barely mentioned in the Bible, and yet his story, maybe more than any other, serves to explain the gospel. He is Barrabas.

Or rather, I am Barabbas.

Here is what we know about this man:

1. He was a rebel. One of his crimes was insurrection; he led a rebellion against the rulers of the land, the Romans.

I, too, am a rebel. Despite the benevolent rule of my King, I have both willingly and by my very nature participated in heinous acts of rebellion against the rightful rule of the God of the Universe.

2. He was a murderer. Apparently during his rebellion against the ruling authorities, someone died, perhaps at his very hand.

I, too, am a murderer. Not just of my fellow man, having wished them harm, but of Jesus Christ whose life I have chanted for through my varied and sundry acts of despicable sin. I have chanted along with the crowd, “Crucify! Crucify!” for I saw Him as a threat to my commitment to my own desires.

3. He, though guilty, was released and an innocent was punished in his stead. Barabbas was shocked to find that somehow, some way, all charges against Him had been dropped. Someone other than him was to die that day, though surely he deserved the punishment.

I, too, have been released. The punishment that was rightfully due to me has been handed down to another. Someone – an innocent man – has been crucified in my place.

I am Barabbas.

You, too, are Barrabas.

And now we stand with this man. Suddenly freed from condemnation. Blinking our prison-darkened eyes in the light of the sun of liberty. Facing the penalty of death, we now surprisingly stand free. Free to work. Free to enjoy. Free to live.

What will I do with this freedom?

And what will you?

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Why You Need a Day on the Calendar for Easter

We, as Christians, are people of the cross.

The cross of Jesus Christ shows us what love is. Not our circumstances, not the state of our world, not our perceived blessings – it is the cross by which the love, forgiveness, and mercy of God is proven. It is the cross by which the justice, wrath, and jealousy of God is displayed. We look to the cross not only to show us who God is and who we are in Him, we look to the cross to show us that the life of following Christ is one of self-denial. We look to the cross even as we take up the cross in our own lives, following the way of our Lord.

We, as Christians, are people of the resurrection.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ shows us that we are destined for more. Our life is not merely the span of a few years; it is the span of eternity. When Jesus got up from the grave, He validated everything He said about Himself and His world. His words were proven true, and if His words are true, then we know that we will follow Him into the resurrection. Like Him, we have been spiritually raised to life, so that even when we experience earthly death, the sting has been taken away. We will live with Him, as He lives, into eternity.

Because we are the people of the cross and people of the resurrection, we don’t need a day on the calendar to celebrate who Jesus is and what He has done. Instead, our eyes should be firmly fixed on the cross and the empty tomb beyond it so that as we run the race of life everything we do, say, think, and are is not only informed by but shape by the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection:

  • We parent in light of the cross and resurrection.
  • We work in light of the cross and resurrection.
  • We spend in light of the cross and resurrection.
  • We relate to others in light of the cross and resurrection.

These realities are more than a part of our lives; they are the center of our being in Him. Like brushing our teeth in the morning, focusing on the cross and resurrection is simply what we do. Always. But even those who brush their teeth twice a day need to go to the dentist every once in a while.

While everything we do is done in light of the cross and resurrection, we will need a date on the calendar. Why is that? We need that date to make ourselves remember.

Throughout history, God has provided, and commanded, that His people remember. The festivals in the Old Testament? The Lord’s Supper in the New? These were given to the people of God so that, if one time a year, they might remember the things that their lives are built on. This is God’s grace to us because we are a forgetful people. We are those who tend to lapse into a state of spiritual sleepwalking, going through the motions of our lives, all the while those things which are most important fade into the background. But on the day set aside to remember we call forth that which has gathered dust in the recesses of our minds.

We remember. That’s what we do this week.

So even though you might be brushing your teeth every single day, don’t stop going to the dentist. And even though the cross and the resurrection might be familiar, still pause this week and remember.

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One of the Most Powerful Parenting Ally

I took my daughter to see Cinderella last week. We had talked about it for months, and both of us were excited. We waited through the previews and then the movie started, and about 10 minutes into the show something remarkable happened.

Unprompted, she reached over and held my hand. And I felt like I was a teenager again. My heart leaps up in my chest and I’m thankful for the darkness of the theater to conceal the stupidly big grin I had on my face.

She held my hand.

And she didn’t let go. We sat there, for the better part of an hour and a half, and just held hands. I couldn’t help but thinking during the movie that moments like these aren’t going to last forever. Time is fleeting, and at some point I’m going to be replaced in that seat. There will be another boy who will get to hold her hand, and I’m confident that his smile will be bigger and stupider than mine. Because of that realization, this special moment that meant way more to me than to her was tinged with a little bit of sadness.

My kids are growing up before my eyes. Some days it feels like they take leaps and bounds toward young adulthood. And in those moments, I curse time. I like things the way they are, but time wags his finger in my face and tells me that they can’t stay like this. They are going to change, ready or not. At times like these, time feels like my opponent, something to be fought against. So I battle and battle to try and preserve the day, the now, knowing that it’s a losing battle.

There is, however, another perspective. For parents like me, time doesn’t have to be an opponent; it can actually be one of the most powerful allies we have. That’s good news, because let’s face it – we all need a few more allies in this great task of raising our children. In order to see time as our ally in parenting rather than our opponent, though, it will take a change in perspective.

Here, then, are three changes in focus that need to happen for time to start being our friend:

1. Focus on character rather than accomplishments.

It’s very helpful for my wife and I to step back every once in a while and remind ourselves as parents of what exactly we are in this for. Is it for straight A’s? Is it to raise good citizens? Is it to make sure the boys can throw a curveball? And the answer again and again is no. We aren’t in this for the personal accomplishments of our kids; we are in this to model and teach them the gospel and then ultimately to see them transformed by the grace of God. It seems like we start seeing time as our opponent when we start focusing on the accomplishments of our kids. When we do, we get impatient with their progress at one task or another. But character building through gospel transformation? That’s the long play. And God is not in a hurry.

2. Focus on progress rather than perfection.

Similarly, it’s easy to get frustrated with our kids when we have to say the same thing to them again and again. And we do; if you’re a parent, you do, too. It’s helpful to remember in those times of frustration how many times the Holy Spirit has had to say the same thing to me:

  • You are God’s child.
  • You are safe in Him.
  • You don’t need to worry about tomorrow.

Again and again. Like our own relationship with God, our kids have not yet arrived. Fortunately, though, there is time. And hopefully, by God’s grace, and aided by time, we have to say the same thing less frequently.

3. Focus on celebration rather than mourning.

Yesterday Jana took our baby – our last one – our 5-year-old Christian to register for kindergarten. That’s the last time this will happen. This is the last time we will have a true first day of school. This is the way of parenting – you’re constantly experiencing that sense of loss as a kid moves from one stage to another. That’s why time can feel so much like an adversary; it is constantly taking precious moments away from us.

But the opposite is also true – time is also giving us new moments. If we change our perspective from that of mourning to that of celebration, we can begin to see time as an ally.

The moments we have with our kids are precious, and they are fleeting. But instead of mourning the loss of those moments, can make the choice to be grateful for the time we’ve been given and, with time as our ally, make the most of every opportunity.

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You Are Not Your Trials


That’s the chemical formula for one of the most common ionic compounds to our everyday life – that of table salt. It’s a 1:1 ratio, meaning it is in equal parts sodium and chloride. When those two elements come together and form a compound, you get salt. Both are an essential part of making this compound that is something entirely different than what those elements are on their own. Take one away, and you no longer have the compound that is so essential to everyday life.

The compound is the sum of these parts; it is not defined by one, but instead is only made when they come together.

This reality is a bit like our own lives. We all have a story; we all have different experiences that have profoundly shaped who we are. All are important because like clay in the hands of a potter, the Lord has used all of them to shape us into who we are. If you take one out, the product of both who we are and who we’re becoming is radically altered. In other words, your experiences matter.

Even, and maybe most especially, the hard ones.

If we took stock of who we are becoming, one of the things we will clearly see is that the hands of our Sculptor seem to have been most formative during the days of difficulty and trial. Though we might have been too blinded by our pain at the time to recognize it, in retrospect we would have to admit that those dark days of difficulty were forming days. It was during those days that God chipped away at our sin and self-reliance; at our lack of trust and immaturity.

It was through those times that we learned perseverance, and after perseverance, all kinds of other godly character traits were moved further and further along. So while we might not necessarily be thankful for the trial itself – we might not thank God for the cancer, for the job loss, for the tears of many kinds – we’ve got to admit that without them, we would not be the people we are today. These experiences were part of the compound of our being.

But not the only part. And this is where we can self-destruct so easily.

Though our trials are an essential part of who we are, they do not define us. They are one of many great works of God in and through us, all coming together to bring about our Christ-likeness. They are part of our definition, of our very core, but they don’t define who we are.

God defines who we are. He calls us His sons and daughters, and the trials we walked through with Him were the means to reinforcing or awakening that true and complete definition. When we experience those trials, we are stripped of all those things we might have trusted in: our career, our health, our ability to manipulate situations for our own good, and we are left bankrupt. We are emptied of what we thought we could count on, what we thought was most precious and dear to us, and when we are left there feeling so very empty, we find our true and lasting mark of identity.

Though we are essentially shaped by our trials, God takes that experience along with all our others to bring about the compound of our being. And in the end, we find that we are shaped, but not defined, by our trials as well as our successes; our accomplishments as well as our failures. We find that we are now, and always, the children of God.

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Thanking God for the Cable Company

My name is Michael, and I have cable.

I’ve thought about getting rid of cable a bunch of times. Sometimes it’s because of expense. But most of the times I’ve considered cutting the cord it’s out of frustration. Appointment times missed, poor service, outages – all of these things have caused me more frustration than they should have. And that’s kind of the point.

Every once in a while, you come across a situation that brings something to light in your heart. Sometimes it’s anger, sometimes it’s bitterness, sometimes it’s fear. Thing is, we think these situations are causal. I am afraid because of the diagnosis. I am angry because I was mistreated. I am bitter because someone else got the credit I deserved. More accurate, though, is the fact that these situations didn’t cause all that stuff; they only revealed it.

Think of it like this – if you were to take a piece of fruit and put it inside of a vice and start tightening it, eventually the juice will come out. The juice was in the fruit all the time; the vice was only the mechanism that caused what was inside to come out. Situations and circumstances are like the vice. They tighten and tighten and tighten until something eventually come out of us. But what comes out was in our hearts already; it wasn’t placed there because of the vice.

So a couple of weeks ago when, yet again, the cable company didn’t deliver, I felt very, very wronged. That’s not to say I wasn’t wronged (nor is this meant to be a commentary on whether or not the cable companies are jerks or whether you should have cable or not). What came out of me was my latent sense of consumerism. And it was ugly.

I believe it’s this way for many of us; we live our whole lives as consumers. We consume good, services, and even church, and when someone or something doesn’t meet our expectations, our sovereign rights as consumers are infringed upon. We feel wronged; we feel that we deserve better. The question is what happens next.

When that sense of consumerism is awakened inside of us, we would do well to recognize just how deeply it runs. Even spiritually, do we have the sense that we deserve more? That we deserve better? Perhaps so. This, along with so many other circumstances, is a chance for us not only to deal with the individual circumstance, but to deal with the heart issue our reaction in the midst of it revealed.

So maybe there’s something redemptive after all about the cable company. Maybe.

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