Christianity 201

May 10, 2017

From Belief That to Belief In

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.
 ~James 2:19 NLT

Right now one of the brightest additions to the field of Christian apologetics has been former cold case detective J. Warner Wallace. (I’m currently reading his newest, Forensic Faith.) We featured his writing here six months ago, and today we return with another installment from his blog. Click the title below to read at source. Note to subscribers: This is the same author/book that Clarke Dixon is using as the focus for his Thursday column here.

Believing the Gospels Is Different Than Trusting the Gospel

In the first chapter of Cold Case Christianity I illustrate the difference between “belief in” and “belief that”. It’s one thing to “believe that” your bullet proof vest can stop a ballistic round, but I’ve known officers who trusted their vests to stop a bullet when they were powerless to do anything in their own defense. In those moments, they moved from “belief that” the vest could save them to “belief in” the vest as a life saver; they transitioned from “belief” to “trust”. We need to do something similar with the claims of Christianity.

I remember my own journey from “belief that” to “belief in”. It began with an intensive investigation of the gospels as I examined them from the perspective of eyewitness accounts. I spent several months poring over the canonical gospels in an effort to mine out the red letters of Jesus. Along the way I employed the tools I learned as a detective and eventually decided the only thing preventing me from accepting the gospels as historically reliable eyewitness accounts was my presuppositional bias against anything supernatural. I eventually determined that the gospel writers were reliable eyewitnesses.

At this point in my journey, I believed “that” Jesus was who He said He was, but I was still much like Nicodemus; I had “belief that” but no “belief in”. Nicodemus visited Jesus late at night and told Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). Nicodemus had been investigating Jesus and, based on what he saw and heard, he believed “that” Jesus was a Godly teacher. Jesus told Nicodemus this was insufficient; Nicodemus needed to be born again and “believe in” Jesus for his salvation. He told Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:16-18).

Every one of us, at some point in our investigation of the claims of Christianity, has to move from “belief that” to “belief in”. I can remember telling my wife, Susie, that I had come to the conclusion the New Testament gospels were reliable; I believed they were telling me the truth about what Jesus said and did. But I still didn’t understand the Gospel of Salvation. I still didn’t know why Jesus had to go to the cross. So I asked her, “Do you understand it?” She didn’t have a good answer for me either. As a rebellious, self-reliant detective, I still denied my need for a Savior, even though I accepted what the gospels told me about that Savior. In order to take a step from “belief that” to “belief in”, I needed to move from an examination of Jesus to an examination of Jim.

As I read the gospels for a second and third time and explored all of the New Testament scripture, I began to focus more on what it said about me than what it said about Jesus. I didn’t like what I saw. Over and over again, I recognized the truth about my own character, behavior and need for forgiveness; I began to understand my need for repentance. The facts about Jesus confirmed that He was the Savior, the facts about me confirmed my need to trust in Him for forgiveness. I was now ready to move from “belief that” to “belief in”.

All of us need to be good Christian Case Makers so we can defend what we believe about God and make the case for the claims of Christianity. But we need to be careful to understand the proper role of evidence and the important distinction between believing the gospels and trusting the Gospel. I want to be more than someone who understands and accepts the evidence about Jesus. I want to be someone who understands and accepts the evidence about me. Only then will I begin to place my trust in the Savior that the New Testament reliably describes.

 

May 3, 2016

Dancing with the Wrong Partner

John 20:19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” …

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

In the process of digging deeper here at Christianity 201, we usually eschew certain types of illustrations, but every once in awhile there is one that really makes you think. That was the case when I read this article by Canadian pastor and fiction author Matthew David Brough. Click the title below to read this at source.

May I Cut In?

Today  I came across an idea I had written about three years ago for a sermon on the same bit of Scripture as this coming Sunday’s. Here’s the thought – stick with it to the end.

John 20:19-31 describes a group of frightened men locked away in an upper room on the first Easter evening. They’re afraid that they will meet with the same fate as Jesus did three days earlier. Will the authorities start rounding up his followers? Will the authorities find out that they were indeed his disciples?

Suddenly, though the doors are locked, Jesus appears among them. He shows them his hands and feet and says “peace be with you” – their faith in him is renewed.

How did Jesus suddenly appear among them? I guess Jesus’ resurrected body must be able to just disappear and reappear and pass through walls. That’s pretty awesome, but it’s not the point (at least not the point today). The point is that Jesus wanted to be in that room with his fearful followers. He chose to come to them. I imagine that if Jesus wasn’t able pass through walls, he would have found some way into that room – he would have broke in if he’d had to.

I think Jesus is like that with us. Ever been afraid? Ever been discouraged? Ever been full of doubt? Beaten by life? Jesus wants to break in and say “peace” to you.

Another way of thinking about this…

You may have seen this scene in an old movie or something. A man and woman are dancing and there is this other man on the sideline, watching. The man on the side knows in his heart that he is supposed to be the one dancing with the woman. She is so beautiful to him – he just knows they are meant for each other. She is dancing with the wrong partner. He walks up to the couple and says “may I cut in?”

That’s what Jesus does. He sees you for who you truly are – you are beautiful to him. He doesn’t judge you – he just despairs that you are dancing with the wrong partner. You’re dancing with fear, with greed, with ambition, with doubt. But Jesus knows you are meant to dance with him. Fortunately, Jesus is even more persistent than the romantic lead in the old movie.

He interrupts your dance and says “may I cut in?”

Then, it’s your move.

Incidentally, the disciples were still hiding in the same room a week later. You know what Jesus did? He showed up again. “May I cut in?” “Peace be with you” were the first words out of his mouth.

February 25, 2015

Everybody’s Got a Troubled Heart

Our post title alludes to Bruce Springsteen’s song Hungry Heart. Some have written about the spirituality that people feel at his concerts. But the truth of the lyrics of this song is certainly appropriate to today’s devotional. People think that some of their friends or people in their church have everything so together, but if they were to peel back the layers, they would see that everybody’s got a hungry heart, a hurting heart, a troubled heart.


 

It’s Wednesday which means today’s post is by Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon. Click the link in the title below to read at source, or better yet, if you have the time, listen to the audio of the full sermon at this link. (Choose the sermon titled “Trouble.”)

Trouble!

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” John 14:1 NRSV

This is a verse with no relevance to any of us as we all have perfect lives, right? We all have perfect health, perfect relationships, and perfect families, and so no troubles, and no troubled hearts. Well truth be told there are many things that can cause our hearts to be troubled. In fact, even if the situations of our lives are not troubling, we can still experience a troubled heart as we fret over situations that may never happen. Troubled hearts are a relevant topic for us all.

Troubled hearts are a relevant topic for the disciples in our passage. He has already told them that one of them would betray him, one of them would deny him, and all of them would fall away from him. Oh, and he would be killed. One can only imagine the kind of thoughts that would be troubling the hearts of the disciples as Jesus is arrested, falsely accused, beat up, mocked, and executed. They might obsess over how they had failed Jesus. They might obsess over the possibility that Jesus had failed them. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”

But that is Friday and Saturday. Sunday comes and Jesus rises from the dead. That should be the end of all troubles, right? Wrong, following Jesus’ ascension to the Father, persecution breaks out against the Jesus followers and it does not go well for them. Study history and you will find much suffering for many Christians. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” Or as one Bible scholar translates it: “Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.”

But shouldn’t things always go well for those who worship God? Should not their prayers be answered? Isn’t God fixing things? Many well meaning Christians believe that yes, God does fix everything for the true believer, and yes, God does answer every prayer of a good Christian. So if things are broken in your life, or prayers are not being answered; confess more, pray more, be a better Christian.

But what does Jesus say? What did Jesus say to the disciples when thing were about to go oh, so wrong? “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God, keep trusting also in me.” He does not say “now that you are following me, your life will be pain free,” but “do not let your hearts be troubled.” You do not say such a thing unless you know trouble is coming. He does not say “I have now fixed everything,” but “keep trusting in God, keep trusting in me.” You do not call for trust unless you know someone needs to wait. He does not say “today you will be with me in paradise,” but “I am going to prepare a place for you.” Well he did tell one believer that paradise would be his lot that very day, but we all know what came next.

Truth is, we are still living in a messy world. No matter how good a Jesus follower we are, no matter how deep our prayer lives are, no matter how all-encompassing our confession of sin is, we still live in a messy world.

Genesis chapter three outlines the result of the fall. The last time I checked, a Christian woman is as likely to experience pain in childbirth as any other. A Christian farmer needs to work just as hard as any other farmer to produce a potato. And all through history, Christians have been as likely to die as anyone else. This is the mess we live in. As we live in this mess we sometimes would rather treat the symptoms than seek the cure. Jesus does not promise to be a pill that will take away pain. He promises to be the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus meets our greatest need. He fills our biggest hole. He cures our greatest illness. He lifts us up from our hardest fall. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.” Every pain we feel as a Jesus follower is temporary. Jesus dealt with our eternal problem.

But someone will object: “God does fix every problem in our lives in the here and now. If you are experiencing trouble, it is because you are not a good enough Christian.” But are you willing to say that to the apostle Paul?

with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. 24 Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. 28 And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:23-28 NRSV)

Paul responded to all these troubles, not by blaming himself or God, but with trust: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 NRSV)

Someone else will object: “God answers prayers with miracles, and if you are not receiving them, that is because you are not good enough.” I believe God does miracles today. But I also believe that miracles today serve the same purpose as the miracles of Jesus recorded for us in the New Testament. They point people to the fact that the Kingdom of God is near. They point to the fact that Jesus is the One through whom the Kingdom comes. Notice that in the New Testament, Jesus did not fix every problem of every person in every place. He still doesn’t. God does miracles, but He does not hand them out like candy. The Christian, no matter how devout or righteous, still lives in a messy world. A miracle is not the cure for a troubled heart. Trust is. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.”

I once took a girl sailing on Chemong Lake. Not being very windy we decided to drop the anchor and go for a swim. If you know Chemong Lake you will know that the middle of the lake is the best place to go swimming for all along the shores are icky, slimy, gross weeds. It came time to head in, and so I got back into the boat. My friend tried to do likewise, but failed. I tried to get her in, but to no avail. So she swam for a bit while I sailed alongside, until she became too tired. With my friend being too tired and my being too weak I had to do something. So I threw a line from the back of the boat and I towed her in. Now do you remember those weeds all along the shoreline? If you could have heard the screams of this poor girl as I pulled her through the weeds! The point is this. Don’t be surprised by the weeds. Trouble will come, even upon the very best Christian. But when they do, don’t let go of the rope. That God in His grace and love will get us to the shore is a sure thing.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.”

June 3, 2014

Devotional Potpourri

From the blog, Deeper Christian:

I have found over these last two months, that even despite incredible busyness, intimacy with Jesus and time in the Word does NOT have to wane. It doesn’t need to be diminished. Granted, it may look different than it normally does, but intimacy with Jesus does not need to be an up-and-down roller coaster experience – it truly can be consistent, steady, and ever-increasing!

I came across a tremendous quote by T. Austin-Sparks the other day, which I want to leave you with. May Jesus ever be the centrality of your life!

The mark of a life governed by the Holy Spirit is that such a life is continually and ever more and more occupied with Christ, that Christ is becoming greater and greater as time goes on. The effect of the Holy Spirit’s work in us is to bring us to the shore of a mighty ocean which reaches far, far beyond our range, and concerning which we feel—Oh, the depths, the fulness, of Christ! If we live as long as ever man lived, we shall still be only on the fringe of this vast fulness that Christ is.

Now, that at once becomes a challenge to us … These are not just words. This is not just rhetoric; this is truth. Let us ask our hearts at once, Is this true in our case? Is this the kind of life that we know? … Is that true in your experience? That is the mark of a life governed by the Holy Spirit. Christ becomes greater and greater as we go on. If that is true, well, that is the way of life.


From  a review of C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity at the blog Stray Thoughts:

From the chapter “The Practical Conclusion”:

[The Christian] does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because he loves us.

From the chapter “The Great Sin”:

Pleasure in being praised is not Pride. The child who is patted on the back for doing a lesson well, the woman whose beauty is praised by her lover, the saved soul to whom Christ says, “Well done,” are all pleased and ought to be. For here the pleasure lies not in what you are but in the fact that you have pleased someone you wanted (and rightly wanted) to please. The trouble begins when you pass from thinking, “I have pleased him; all is well,” to thinking, “What a fine person I must be to have done it.”

That was immensely helpful to me. I don’t know if anyone else experiences this, but sometimes when you receive a compliment, then you feel a rush of pleasure, that feel guilty for that pleasure and feel you need to redirect the attention to the Lord, and in trying to do so sound awkward and overly pious. For that reason, when someone, say, sings a solo in church that I enjoyed, I try to tell them it blessed my heart rather than just “I enjoyed your song this morning.” Though I mean the same thing by both sentences, the second one makes people feel awkward and self-conscious. This thought did help me to understand it’s not wrong to feel pleasure in pleasing someone else or accepting a compliment.

From the same chapter:

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is a nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who tool a real interest in what you said to him….He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.


From the blog, Cindy By The Sea:

The weather is finally warming up here in Northern New Mexico and I had the opportunity to go out walking along the river yesterday afternoon…

I have a favorite spot where the water spills over some rocks creating a mini rapids of sorts. I sat for a while yesterday watching a trio of ducks and a piece of wood that was caught up in the fast-moving water. It made an interesting contrast and brought several thoughts to mind as I watched.  The wood  circling round and round in a never-ending cycle — bobbing into the current and back out again — unable to release itself permanently from the currents strong grasp – this in contrast to the ducks, who smart enough to stay out of the faster moving water paddled freely and placidly about.

It occurred to me as I watched from my position along the bank how like that piece of  wood I often am. They don’t call it drift wood for nothing. Without arms to swim or feet to paddle, the wood is completely at the mercy of the current. And without a change in water speed or depth, the wood would continue in that same cycle perhaps forever – or until the summer runoff subsides and the water level drops leaving the wood exactly where it was but this time stuck – stuck in the mud and going nowhere.

As I was doing my Bible reading this morning, I thought of these words from the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:17  –

 “…. where the spirit of the Lord is there is freedom”. 

Yes, freedom!  And, as trite as that may sound it is exactly true.  For in and of ourselves, we are powerless to change much about our lives and the situations we find ourselves in. We can try this and try that but, it is only by God that we will find permanent release and change that will last. A thought I hope that will stay with me the next time I find my self “caught in the current” of life.  Less reliance on me and more on the one who has the power to effect a permanent change – after all, it is he who controls the water does he not?

I love how God speaks to us through the simple things, don’t you? It has made a difference in my day today – I hope it has in yours.


 

From 2003, the final newsletter of Elizabeth Elliot:

I bid you farewell with words from a hymn written by Anna L. Waring in 1850:

Father, I know that all my life
Is portioned out for me,
And the changes that are sure to come
I do not fear to see;
I ask Thee for a present mind,
Intent on pleasing Thee.

I would not have the restless will
That hurries to and fro,
Seeking for some great thing to do
Or secret thing to know;
I would be treated as a child
And guided where I go.

Wherever in the world I am,
In whatsoever estate,
I have a fellowship with hearts
To keep and cultivate .

January 4, 2014

Clarifying a Popular Scripture Verse

Dr. Ric Walston is the founder and president of the distance-education school at Columbia Evangelical Seminary.  You are encouraged to read this at his blog, Coffee Talk.

“I can do all [THESE] things
through Christ who strengthens me.”

A short lesson in context.

Philippians 4:13

The Claim
We’ve all heard people claim: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

But, was this verse written as a claim-it verse? And, what is this “all things” that Paul speaks of?

The “all things” – The Circumstances
The “all things” are the very things Paul was talking about in Philippians chapter 4 verses 10 through 12.

Paul said: “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I’m in” 11b.

What circumstances are those Paul?

He goes on:
1. I know how to get along with humble means, i.e., like a poor person with very little material goods.
2. I also know how to live in prosperity. (Some people don’t ya know! They tend to forget Christ when they have all of the physical comforts of life).
3. In any and every circumstance [i.e., poor or rich], I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.

Oh! What is that secret Paul?

Answer: Through Christ! “I can do all [THESE] things through Christ who strengthens me.” The NIV says it this way, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Note the “all this.” The “all this” is the “all things” that he was talking about, i.e., all these things.

And, then note what he says in verse 14:

“Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.”

Paul was afflicted with needs and wants.

So, he ends this point by saying that even though he can live for Christ in needs (poverty) or in plenty (rich), it was still good that they helped him during his time of poverty.

Backing up to verse 10, he says to them that he rejoiced in the Lord that they (the Philippian Christians) had once again revived their concern for him; he says that they were concerned before, but they lacked opportunity—that is they lacked the opportunity to help him in his time of poverty, probably because they themselves didn’t have much to give.

It is in the face of this that Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” He’s talking about having nothing and living in poverty or being rich and having plenty; in either case or in both cases, he can do it through Christ who strengthened him.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” is not a “catch-all phrase” that refers to throwing a football, or starting a business, or walking a tightrope, or on and on and on. It’s about Paul living in contentment in Jesus whether he was in poverty or in wealth, when he had a full tummy or when he was hungry, both when he had abundance and when he had needs.

Not a “Claim-it verse”
People attempt to “claim” this verse by making it about them. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

But, guess what. This is not a “claim-it verse.”

This verse is not even about you!

Paul’s Report
This is Paul’s personal report and testimony of his own maturity in Christ.

The “I” in this verse is about Paul himself, not you.

In the same chapter, Paul says, “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord” v. 2. But, no one seems to be confused about who the “I” is in this verse. It’s Paul, not you. It’s not you in verse 2 and it’s not you in verse 13.

What’s Our Report?
Most of us cannot live content lives while living in poverty. Most of us can hardly be content when we have all the material things that we need.

Again, this is not a claim-it verse; this is a report by a fellow Christian who tells us that he has found the secret on how to be content whether he is poor or rich: the secret is through Christ!

If you are not content in your station in life, Paul’s example is there for us to follow.

Once you can be content in poverty or in riches by the power of Christ living in you, then you can say, as Paul did, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” v. 11.

It is in this way that Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (NIV).

How about us?
Have we actually reached a point in our maturity in Christ where we too can say with Paul, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances . . . I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m still not there yet.

 

April 3, 2013

Humility and How I Attained It

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:12 pm
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This appeared recently at Forward Progress, the blog of Michael Kelley under the title Humble Casting.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your care on Him, because He cares about you (1 Peter 5:6-7).

The elusive characteristic of humility. My college roommate and I used to joke that we would someday co-author a book called Humility and How I Attained It. We would be so proud of this work. Wait… dang it.

That’s the nature of humility, isn’t it? You seek after it, but as soon as you think you’ve found it, you’ve lost it. No doubt that humility is an essential character trait that can be nurtured and developed; it’s even commanded here in Scripture. We aren’t commanded to sit around and wait for humility to come upon us like a stomach bug; we are directly told to “humble yourselves.”

But Peter also gives us the action step to doing so. Surprisingly, though, it’s not to practice self-abasement. Neither is it to walk around with your shoulders drooped. It’s certainly not to awkwardly deflect compliments when they happen to come our way. Instead, you pursue humility by casting your cares upon the Lord.

Now why might that lead to humility? Think of it like this: You are very sick. So sick, in fact, that you cannot get out of bed. You cannot fix your own chicken soup or get your own crackers. You can’t even get to the TV remote if it’s not right beside you. You have no other choice, once you recognize the frailty of your condition, but to cast your burdens upon another. That’s an incredibly humbling thing by its very nature.

The same thing holds true here. When we cast all our cares upon the Lord, we will be humbling ourselves. Problem is, we don’t really recognize the frailty of our condition. We think that we can still fix things in our lives. We can still have the difficulty conversations and carefully lay out plans. We still see ourselves as strong and capable, and therefore we do not cast. Most of the time, it takes a true moment of crisis for us to begin that casting process. We have to be, by circumstance, awakened to what’s been there all along:

Our powerlessness.

Our lack of control.

Our great need day in and day out.

But what if we didn’t have to wait until we are reminded to start that process? What if a moment of crisis didn’t have to awaken that sense of dependence? What if, instead of waiting in our false sense of power, we instead made it our practice to preemptively cast our cares upon the Lord?

And what if the really good news is that He doesn’t get tired of that? What if the fuel for the casting was the great love of God demonstrated for us at the cross of Jesus Christ?

Now that would really be something.

Wouldn’t it?

Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of the Christian blogosphere. An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

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