Monthly Archives: November 2011

Who has believed our report?

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. (Jas 1:22-24)

James now begins to argue that doing the word is important. While hearing is an important thing in the Christian’s life, it must be coupled by action on his part if it is to mean anything at all. In the parable of the Sower, each of the different soils represents someone who ‘heard’ the word and yet the fruit of each was considerably different. Of course, James is writing to Christians who have already heard and obeyed the Gospel of Christ so what is there to do?

From the beginning  of this book and then even after this statement, James provides illustration after illustration of action that is, or is not, in line with the Faith which bears the name of our Saviour. The idea here is that to hear is not the same as to respond to what has been heard. Many times as I was growing up I heard the phrase “going in one ear and out the other” as a description of my powers of retention. I could hear my mother tell me to do something but that was a far cry from actually doing it.

In the same light, James says to his audience that those who hear the word but do not couple it with action are deceiving themselves.  James had just urged them not to be deceived by thinking God created the problems in their lives and now they are suffering a self-delusion that they are pleasing to God even though they do not do according to what they have heard.  

When one deludes themselves, all sorts of things can go wrong. James uses an illustration to prove his point. Suppose you get up in the morning and look ‘intently’ in the mirror. You notice messed up hair, a dirty patch on your forehead, sleep in your eye and maybe (if you dressed before you looked) you might see wrinkled clothes and a  shirt that is buttoned in the wrong holes. When you look intently you notice these things. Then, you walk away and forget about them:”Out of sight, out of mind”. The first person you meet will either conclude you are on the way to a costume party, or that you didn’t pay any attention to what you saw.

James will further this illustration in the next few verses and make a spiritual application. However, each of us can probably relate to this illustration before us. Let us not deceive ourselves, let us be hearers and doers.  Those who believed the report…acted on it.

Put down the sin and back away!

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.  (Jas 1:21 ESV)

When ever you see the word “therefore” you should look and see what it is there for! And sure enough, this therefore is there for a reason. It concludes a thought that James is expressing and brings to close an argument (or at least a portion of it) that he has been making.  Because we are responsible for our own temptations and sins and God is the one who is giving us all of the good gifts, especially being born again into his family, we need to stop! Listen! and realize that our anger at our perceptions of reality (which are not the way things really are) is messed up. So….

We should put away something and receive something that will benefit us.

That which we are to put away is all of the filthiness and rampant wickedness in our lives. Wait! What is that? Filth and wickedness?  Isn’t James talking to Christians who had been washed in the blood of Jesus? Cleansed from their old sins? How can they have filth and wickedness? Sure, a little sin once in a while (everyone does) but “filth” is such a …well, it is such a filthy word! Don’t even get me started on wickedness. Contrary to the popular usage (or the little note of encouragement that WordPress gave me at post 14 “Wicked!”) it is not a compliment.

James is not the first person to address this issue and every Christian realizes that from about 5 minutes after coming up out of the grave, sin is still a possibility. We are not mechanically prevented from sinning. Paul dealt with it in Romans 6 and told those Christians that they could not live in sin any longer.  In this context though, the filthiness and wickedness would be attributable to a life that was not lived in faith and, worse yet, one that blamed God for the situation.  You can see now perhaps why James goes on from here to give so much good practical advice to his audience on how to live a life of faith and the many actions that will show that you live a life of faith.

I like the phrase ‘put away’. It is used in several meanings. 

  1. To put in its proper spot. “Would you put the trash away please.”
  2. To incarcerate. “The judge put him away for 1000 years.”
  3. To be victorious over. “He put him away with that final shot”

In either case, the understanding should be to remove that stuff out of your life because it does not belong there.

To contrast the putting away and removal of filth and wickedness, James says you are to receive something. In this case, the implanted word.

How you are to receive it is very important: with meekness. As I have heard all my life, “meek doesn’t mean weak” but we still tend to think of it that way. Actually, meek has more to do with the control of strength not  the absence of strength. A meek horse is still a powerful animal but, rather than flexing his muscles and running away with or bucking off the rider, he permits the rider to be there. We also need to permit the word that God has implanted to be there. To fight against it and to tear it out is not good for us.

Jesus spreading seedThe illustration reminds me of the parable of the sower. In that parable, the seed was also the word of God and it fell on four soils. These have already proven themselves not to be the hard soil and probably not the rocky soil. Judging by James’ book, I think he was concerned that they may be the thorny soil. When the word is implanted into the soil (our hearts) if we receive it with meekness, it is able to save our souls. If we do not, well… it cannot do its job.

James is going to expand on this thought in the next few verses. What we need to consider, as we read the word, is are we receiving the word with meekness or trying to remake it into our own image and plans? One last cliché to close. We have seen those bumper stickers that say “God is my co-pilot”. While the thought is nice, I would suggest that God should be the pilot!  Let’s meekly let God direct us in His paths.

Can you hear me now?

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (Jas 1:19-20 ESV)

Part of not being deceived (see a  previous post) is knowing what is right and true. James does not want these beloved brethren to fall into the trap of deception. Some types of knowledge are a necesary thing.

James is going to give them knowledge that is essential and applicable in so many ways. It is certainly good advice to listen more than you speak in social situations. In sales, good salesmen are those who listen more than they talk. However, James’ advice (while applicable in relationship to others) is directed at our relationship with God and towards listening and responding to Him.

Be swift to hear: When you want to do something, you are quick to get to it. If you are going to play a game with friends in the morning, you shower fast, dress fast, eat fast, and rush out the door. Excitement motivates you. (Hopefully the same excitement happens on Sunday morning for worship services….but I digress). 

Someone once said “God gave us two ears and one mouth; we should use them in that proportion.”  James would agree.  

Slow to speak: The pause between another’s expression of  thoughts and the words starting out of your mouth should be more than 5 nanoseconds. Allowing the time to fully digest the words to which you were intently (i.e. swiftly) listening will allow the nutrition of them to be processed and used more readily. This can sometimes take 10 full seconds…or even longer.

In this context, David’s words may apply. The righteous one “meditates” on His law. (Psalms 1) Hearing God’s words and then thinking about them and considering them before you act or speak rashly is a good idea.

Slow to wrath: Those with a quick fuse are going to have problems. In fact, by this point in the book, James might even be expecting some anger as his audience hears these words read to them. Read back from verse 2 to this point and see if these might not be responses in a person who was not quick to hear, slow to speak or slow to wrath:

  • “What do you mean rejoice in trials? Life is hard, there is no joy!”
  • “Why does my faith have to be tested? I am faithful. God shouldn’t need to test me.”
  • “I didn’t know what to do and asked God, he didn’t answer me.”
  • “What do you mean I didn’t have the faith in my request?”
  • “I am what? double-minded?”
  • “What exaltation? I am poor and that no good greedy rich guy won’t share his money so I am going to go occupy his Jerusalem, Rome, and Antioch” (oh wait, that thought won’t happen for 2, 000 years from when James wrote this.)
  • “Why should I be humbled? I am rich. I should be treated better.”
  • “God does too tempt me. It has to be Him, it can’t be my fault!”

For any one of these responses, God has something to say and James is delivering that message to these Christians. It is not, of course, an exhaustive list, nor does it need to be. If we will simply put into practice the art of listening to God and not trying to talk our way into what we want to do, or getting angry when things don’t go the way we want them to go, life will be better-especially the one to come.

Consider that he says ‘the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God’. How true that was with Cain. He brought an unacceptable sacrifice and became angry. God spoke to him but he was not willing to listen. He ended up killing his brother.  

There is a difference between the anger of man and of God. God’s anger is directed at ungodliness whereas the anger of man is generally directed at godliness, especially when such godliness is showing their faults.  

The reason why James wants us to listen more than we speak is because you can learn something when you listen. I have had the occasion, several occasions actually, to debate  a point with someone only to discover after the conversation was over and time had passed, that his point was a good one or that we actually agreed and were arguing over semantics.

James will tell us what to do once we accept this simple advice in the next few verses. When a person will actually remove anger, stop talking and start listening, much can be accomplished.

The Choices of Cain

Today’s morning lesson looked at the choices that Cain made in an attempt to help us do better in the choices that we make. The Premise of the lesson is based on 1 Cor 10:13 which states that God does not allow us to be tempted above what we can bear.

Cain’s first choice was to not offer God the sacrifice that God wanted. Many thoughts are stated about this but at the very least we know that Abel offered his sacrifice by faith and was accepted. Cain then apparently continued to compound one sin by others.

God even advised Cain on how to be accepted. “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” You would think that Cain would choose to respond to this. However, the response to God’s encouragement was killing his brother; some response. Finally he did not even repent of this but made the situation worse by not admitting what he did.

God finally sent him away.

The examples we have in Christ give us clear paths to follow and to serve God. We should make the choices he made and resist the temptations to choose sin over God.  The link to this sermon is here

The Gift from above

 lots of gifts in boxesEvery good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (Jas 1:17-18 ESV)

As God finished each day of creation, the text says that his creation was “good” and when finished, the whole thing was “very good”.  When we think of the gifts that people give to other people, sometimes those gifts are not so good. Sometimes they are inadequate and sometimes not appropriate to the person who is recieving the gift.

However, God gives us good gifts, things that are necessary and adequate for us. He meets our needs, not always our wants. Sure, we may not have as much as we think we need but when we serve God, even if we were to die of hunger, there is a feast waiting. The struggle we have oftentimes is to trust God and wait for him.

James has just told his readers not to attribute to God bad things (temptations) and here he reminds them why: God doesn’t give us bad things! In fact, contrast HIS WILL with OUR WILL and you see a big difference. When left to our will, we bring forth all sorts of hurts, lusts, desires that come from our heart.  These are not good gifts for the benefit of others but, rather for our own benefit. (Wait till we get to chapter four!)

However, God not only provides for us the things that give us life in this world (food and clothing with which we should be content 1 Tim. 6:8), he provided us the greatest gifts from above that will give  us life in the world to come: first, in the person of Jesus who modeled His will, and second, in the person of the Holy Spirit who reminds us of his will, having first inspired the Apostles to write it down for us and second by dwelling in us.

The heart is the source of a person’s quality and character. When you look at how God choose to manifest HIS desires, qualities and characters, we see that it resulted in bringing us forth through the word of truth.   By obedience to the Gospel (the word of truth), we are born again. 

 We are now a kind of firstfruits. Certainly that would be more true of the Christians to whom James was writing but it is also true of us. Much can be said about the firstfruits but one thing is certain: If there are firstfruits, there will be secondfruits. We not only have the joy of being brought forth by God’s word but we have the opportunity to be the source of spreading that same word to have others brought forth too. If only we would not try to do our own will. 

James will have more to say about how to mold our will to His next.

Warning! Deceptions ahead.

Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.  (James 1:16 ESV)

 As a kid, I was deceived by the cereal people. I would go into the store and purchase the cereal with the strawberries in the picture. Yet, when I got home and opened the box, there were no strawberries. (Note: Some cereals now include freeze-dried strawberries but that is not what I was expecting nor does that remove the childhood scars.)

I was deceived, to some extent by the cereal makers, but more by my own desire and wants. I allowed myself to believe something that couldn’t be true; it was only true in my head.  (Of course, I do not hold the cereal makers completely without fault, you notice they didn’t put peas and carrots on the picture. They are not dumb people.)

God did not tempt in the GardenThere are deceptions we have in our religious upbringing as well. James has just finished telling his readers that God does not tempt them. Their temptations come due to their own desires. He tells them that it is their own fault for the sins they fall into. But, why the warning to not be deceived? As you read James, you see a really cantankerous group of people to whom he is writing, so this warning seems necessary.  

 WARNING!! If you accuse God of being the one who tempts you, then how are you going to be able to receive His blessings?  James will say next that all the good things come from a  God who does not shift and vary. In chapter three, he mentions that fountains do not give salt and fresh water, reminds us we are Spirit filled in chapter four, and has just called a person who asks without faith a “double minded man” who is as unstable as the waves of the sea.

Do you get the idea? How can God do things that are Un-Godlike?

“The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exo 34:6-7)

The warning here is clear. Do not attribute to God things that are not within His character or there is a danger.  Jesus faced the same thing in Mark 3:22 as his opponents accused him of casting demons out by the power of Satan. His warning of blaspheming the Holy Spirit comes in that passage and let me just say that if a Spirit filled Christian accused God of tempting him, how can the Spirit dwell in him?

A secondary warning might be found in willingly believing things that the Scriptures do not teach.  In Greek mythology, I soon found that the ‘gods’ were the type to tempt men with evil but that is not our God. Apparently some of James’ readers accepted the idea that even our God was like that.  In the Scriptures other misconceptions are referenced such as, the rich are blest by God and that their riches are evidence of it (cf. Mt 19:23-25), some believed you could sin before you were born (cf John 9:2) but these also are not taught in the Scriptures.

Today, some believe in visions, not that they, themselves, have seen, but that others have seen and reported to them. For those who see visions and dream dreams, they may be blest but if what they have seen or dreamed contradicts what the Scriptures teach, I will not believe it or follow it.

I will not be deceived.

An autopsy of sin.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.
(Jas 1:13-16)

With all the of the CSI programs on TV today, not to mention the old medical shows like Quincy M.E., it seems that people have an interest in autopsies. An Autopsy is the procedure performed on the body after death to see what killed it. (So I suppose my title should really be something like “An Autopsy of a spiritually dead person” but that is too long and not as intriguing as “An Autopsy of Sin”) Today’s post is going to look back and see what kills us, spiritually speaking, from James’ book.

First, off it is important to note that he says not to blame God for the temptations you are going through. Not only is He not tempted, he does not tempt anyone. Flip Wilson, a comic from way back was famous for his phrase “The Devil made me do it!”  James is going to show that the devil doesn’t MAKE you do anything. From early on in our life we learn to blame others. Even Adam tried to blame both God and his wife in one shot: “The woman YOU gave me….” is why I ate. We will look everywhere and at everyone else that  we can except at ourselves.

It is true that Satan tempts us but James is going to show us the limits on his ability to tempt us. It not true that God tempts us and Paul says that God protects us from being tempted above what we can handle. In other words, he reins Satan in so that he is not able to overpower us.  (I cor 10:13)

James says that each of us is tempted when we are drawn away and enticed by our own desires. The word ‘desire’ is an appropriate word here. The meaning in this context is ‘illicit desires’ which is why some versions use the word “lusts”. At its core, a lust is a desire but one that passes beyond the boundaries that God has set. An example is our desire for hunger. It is a perfectly normal desire to feed ourselves and satisfy our desire for food, but when turned into lust, it results in gluttony. Our natural sexual desires when taken in to the category of lusts results in fornication. Basically ‘desire’ is fine when kept within the boundaries God has established.

Temptation is the enticement to take a desire beyond its boundaries. So to be tempted means you must have some desire to begin with.  It would be useless to tempt me with liver. I do not like it, can’t stand it and so if I were guarding the ACME liver factory, there would be no temptation, to take any home with me. The same would not be said if I were guarding the See’s chocolate factory or the Blue Bell factory. It could become a temptation. The desire is for chocolate not to steal. Theft would be the result of letting the enticement go too far.

Once the lustful desire has been conceived and accomplished it brings forth sin. Then when the sin becomes fully grown, it brings forth death. Since Scripture teaches that ONE sin is enough to result in death, I asked myself why sin would have to become full grown in order to kill. (“Self”, I asked…..)

Keeping in mind that James is writing to Christians, already cleansed in the blood of Christ, the lesson James teaches has to apply to our current temptations and desires. Christians are not prevented from sinning mechanically. God does not make it impossible for us to sin or the first chapter of First John wouldn’t make much sense.  The blood of his Son cleanses us from our sin….if we walk in the light as he in in the light.

But what if we like our lust and desire. What if the sin conceived is enjoyable to us and we do not wish to stop. Well, it grows. Cain had already sinned in not offering an appropriate sacrifice. God warned him that sin was ready to take control and urged him to do right so that he would be accepted. As we know, he didn’t listen, held on to his own sin and let it grow.

You see, if you could blame God for all this then there should be no fault attributed to your account. If you can blame Satan for making you do it, then again no fault is yours. But, if, just what if, that sin you are doing and giving into actually started from your own heart,  your own desires that you fanned into lust and then into sin and then decided you liked enough to live in it. Well, that would be a horse of a different color.

So on our death certificate it should read:

Cause of death:

Sin caused by an acute desire.

(we could have saved this one if he had repented)

Waiting for the crown of life.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
(Jas 1:12) ESV

James began his letter  by telling us to rejoice when we meet various trials. He talks about the trials producing steadfastness,  gives some advice about obtaining wisdom, and gives counsel to the rich and the poor. Even that counsel to the rich and the poor is within the overall theme of standing fast in trials because each economic status brings its own sets of trials.

The question is often asked: Does verse twelve  belong with the section above or the section below? I honestly think that it applies to  both. James uses this statement as a transition from trials/temptations in general to a specific type of temptation, one that entices to sin.  Some versions pick up on the slight difference by using “trial” in verse 3 but use “temptation” in verse 12. The ESV uses “trial” in both verse 3 and 12.

Temptations (direct enticements to sin) are definitely discussed in verse 13 but not all trials (temptations-NKJV) are direct enticements to sin. The death of a loved one, the need to find a different discipline for the youngest child who responds differently than the first two (thus the need to pray for wisdom),or  some financial set back can test us and may lead us toward sin but throwing our faith away is not the most likely response.  Of course, if enough of those trials are heaped on top of us, we may choose to buckle but Job did not buckle under his trials and, as far as I know, they were not direct enticements to sin, with the exception of his wife’s advice to “curse God and die.”

In either case, James ties our reward in Heaven (the crown of life) to standing fast. The only way to be able to say that one has stood fast in this context is to die faithful in the Lord. In other words, it is the summation of a Christian’s whole life not a few victories and  then a sliding away. This is a similar to Revelation 2:10 “be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life”. The idea then is that  trials will be present throughout our life, but this should not disturb us.

Verse twelve also reminds us who this reward is for. He says that the crown of life is promised for those who love God. Much is made of the fact that God loves us. John 3:16 is a well known and comforting verse. However, to be loved by someone does not mean you love them in return. The greatest commandment is that we love God with our whole being, so it stands to reason that this promised crown of life is to those who love him in return. How do you know you love him? In this context, when you have stood fast through your whole life, your love is shown.

As we go through and grow through these trials, our hope is set on Christ and that crown of life that awaits us. Our steadfastness in trials and temptations will allow us to say with Paul:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
(2Ti 4:7-8)

Boast in the Lord!

  Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
(Jas 1:9-11 ESV)

Of all the categories which we lump people into, the category of wealth is the most common: the haves and that have-nots, the rich and the poor, the down trodden and the ‘man’. Yet James’ counsel to both (I hasten to add…inspired counsel) is not to focus on  what they have, whether a little or a lot. He directs their sight and thoughts towards a more excellent perspective.

The lowly brother is to look around at his condition and boast. Because even as poor as he is, Christ redeemed him and exalted him and has promised him a mansion. The poor brother,  in relationship to this world’s benefits, has little but, in relationship to God, has a great deal. James will say later on (5:13) that if one is cheerful that he should sing. This poor brother should be cheerful and what better song than “I’ve been redeemed” or “His eye is on the sparrow” or “This world is not my home” or….well, you get the picture. Boast poor brother Boast!

It is particularly important that poor man boasts in his relationship with God so that he does not fall into the trap of being envious. Jesus says

“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
(Luk 12:15)

Which brings us to the rich brother:

James says to the rich that he is to boast in his humiliation. One might ask, “what humiliation?” Not only is he rich but he is going to Heaven!  For the rich, the humiliation is that they cannot do it all; their wealth is as nothing to God because it will not buy them an ounce of grace. The rich are made to be on the same level as the poor, no special treatment is commanded for them, and in the Lord’s church it is not supposed to be allowed (James 2). Riches are easy to trust in when you have them. You can buy the things you need, even get yourself out of trouble by hiring competent attorneys, avoid the drudgery of mowing your own lawn, changing your own oil, get to watch your favorite NFL teams on satellite, dress nice and have people call you Sir or Ma’am. The list goes on and does not only apply to the über rich. However, none of the purchasable items includes Salvation.

In the world, special treatments are normal but in the church of God, they are anathema. In that day, a Christian man may have owned a slave and yet his slave might be an elder in the church. The rich man would need to be subject to his slave in matters of the church even though the slave was subject to him in relation to work to be done.   (No, such does not happen today very often: think employee/employer but it easily could.)  To be made equal is a humiliation enough but to submit to your own slave?  There is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, rich nor poor, black nor white all are one in Christ. Christ humiliated himself by becoming equal with His creation. The Rich also should boast in this humiliation. Boast rich man, Boast!

James also reminds the rich that they will disappear. Not in pomp and circumstance but just like grass on a hot, blistering, Texas summer day. The grass withers and its flower fades. Notice James says the rich man will also fade “in the midst of his pursuits”. Working away and Bam! in the blink of an eye he is standing before the throne of judgement.

As quoted above, ones life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. When we do finally get to Heaven, the wealth and magnificence of God’s throne room alone will put to shame everything we have here.

All Christians, rich, poor, or middle class should Boast, but in the Lord. Boast Christian, Boast!

Self-control in the Garden

Today’s lesson takes a look at an important topic, that of self-control.  Self control is not a commonly used word in the Bible, however, the concept of self-control is found so often in the Bible, that is hard to miss. In fact, one would have to try very hard to miss one main message of Scripture: control thyself! In fact, one doesn’t have to go very far to see self-control, or the lack of it, at work in the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve present a good study on how their lack of self-control could star in the book of life’s chapter entitiled “what not to do”.

The tree that Eve ate from was a good looking tree, to be sure, and it was good for food as well. But so were all the other trees in the garden (Gen 2:9) so why that particular tree and what was her motive? I think it was, in part, the attention that she paid to it. If she had treated it like any other tree, as she had been doing, there should have been no problem. The other part, was that Satan caused to be discontent with what she had. It wasn’t enough to have God providing everything for her that she needed, now she wanted to be like God.

Such knowledge was not necessary for her to do her job and fulfill her role. And there are lots of things that we do not need to “know” in order to do our job for God. Knowing Drugs or pre-marital sex, or how to win through deceit is not a knowledge we need to have and the damage can be substantial. Because of our lack of self-control sin creates problems not just for us but for others.

Developing self-control is an important thing to do. It is easier as children to learn to be disciplined but even as adults there are lessons that we should learn to help us control our lives. Admitting that we have a need for control in this or that area will help. As the old saying goes ‘admitting that you have a problem is half the battle.’ A second way to help avoid sin (the failure to control ourselves) is to do as David did. “your word I have hidden in my heart that I might not sin against you” (psalm 119:11) and third, we can prayer for strength as Jesus counseled the disciples to do “pray that you enter not into temptation” Luke 22:40

I hope you enjoyed reading this and if you have any suggestions that will help in developing self-control, let me know. The sermon parts one and two are here.

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