Please be seated and take your Bibles and turn with me to Romans chapter 8. I’m grateful for Tim praying for “Ed with the soft voice.” What I really have is generous, really generous grandchildren who are so delight to share all things virulent and contagious with their Em and Pops and they most recently, very recently, moved to Jackson and so we see a lot of them! For which I’m grateful.
We’ve been going through a Sunday evening series on the book of Proverbs and the wisdom that we find there. And I think it was Cory who defined wisdom in this way. He said, “Wisdom is knowing how to life and what to do when there are no rules telling you what to do.” So we looked at Proverbs and the wisdom it gives us regarding life and death, regarding family, money, words. Today, this evening, in preparation for our 2019 Global Mission Conference, I’d like us to look at wisdom in regard to mission. And for that, we’re turning from the book of Proverbs to the book of Romans. And I do mean the book of Romans because we’re going to look at the entire book. It will be a very long Scripture reading and a short sermon. No, not really! It will be an abridged Scripture reading. We’ll just read part of Romans 8 but we’ll actually look at the entire book to make a case. And the case is this - the book of Romans really is a missionary support raising letter. It is the apostle Paul’s magnum opus as he describes what the Gospel really is. But he’s got an agenda. He’s writing a letter to engage missionary supporters - people who will give, people who will pray, and people who will stand with him in the battle to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth. I hope to prove that to you, and in the process, I suspect you’ll never read the book of Romans the same again. Sounds good?
A little commercial - our Mission Conference kicks off this coming Sunday. Guest Speaker, who is the team leader where John and Kelley Beth, our former mission intern and children’s intern, are now serving. Guest Speaker and his family are in the States, in Orlando. We have been praying for them because they have been blocked from returning to the country where they serve in Southeast Asia and we continue to pray and wait for the Lord to open up those doors. But Guest Speaker will be bringing God’s Word to us next Sunday to kick off our conference. And then on Wednesday, our big launch is going to take place at our normal time in Miller Hall. There will be international food, it will be a big crowd, there will be a lot of different speakers, but you’ll want to come. I’ve learned that while we’ve mailed out these Mission Conference booklets, some of you did not receive them. They’re at all the exits; please grab one if you’ve not gotten one yet. There are also copies of the World Watch List, which has just been published for 2019. These are the fifty countries where it’s most dangerous to follow Jesus. And if you believe God has called you to pray for the finishing of Christ’s mission, the spread of the Gospel, this is an excellent tool to guide your prayers. There are also prayer sheets that you will find where there are specific Scripture promises and specific prayers that we’re asking the Holy Spirit to be at work in our hearts and through our ministries toward the mission of Jesus Christ. Please pick those up on your way out.
I was also asked to tell you this. I forgot. We’re going to host an evangelism training seminary on Friday and Saturday - Friday evening and Saturday morning; that's February 22 and 23. We've offered childcare for kids in nursery through third grade. It’s not just child care. There is a program. There will be a kickball tournament, there will be a snake show - Terry Vandeventer, the herpetologist, is bringing a bunch of snakes and lizards. Kind of like an in-house field trip! Chick-fil-a, pizza party - did I say kickball tournament? A lot of fun. You’ll need to register your kids. As a matter of fact, for all of these events, we’re asking you to register. You can do so online - the church website or the church app - or just call the church office. We’d be happy to get you registered. That’s should cover it for the Mission Conference promo.
Now, Romans chapter 8. Let’s read the first seventeen verses:
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
Would you join me in prayer?
Holy Spirit, would You come? Would You come and open eyes that are blind to what matters. Open hearts that are hardened, hardened to things that are precious. And open our lives that we may live in line with the mission of the Holy Spirit, that mission that is going on right now in us, through us, and all around us. Invite us in that we may joyfully embrace the mission and find our deepest delight not just in knowing Jesus and in being used by Him to the end that His bride will be perfected until the day that we see Him face to face. We ask this all in Jesus’ name, amen.
Two weeks ago we looked at Isaiah chapter 6 and we looked at a vision for mission. There were three basic takeaways. One, if you belong to Christ, you are called to mission. It’s not an option. Number two, your calling in mission is to obedience and not to success. We’ll unpack that a little further this evening. Third, your mission will be a long obedience in the same direction. It will take time, it will be costly, more costly than you can imagine, but it’s a mission that will be completed. So the logical question for us tonight is, “Where do you see mission in the book of Romans?” Here’s my last opportunity to launch the Mission Conference and to invite you to pray and engage and come and plan to clear your schedule so that you can come. I think it will be that worthwhile.
Missionary Support Raising Letter
And yet we’re looking at the book of Romans, why? Well, as I said earlier, Romans is a missionary support raising letter from the missionary, Paul, to potential supporters and co-laborers in Rome. And I want you to think about this. Paul’s main supporters through all of his missionary journeys, they were in the far east. His original sending church was in the city of Antioch in the east. Now, his vision was to go to the unreached people groups in a place called Spain. That was in the far west. And he realized that the supporters, his support base in Antioch, was not sufficient to get him where he wanted to go, so he was looking for a new support base from which he could launch into a place that he had not been to before. And so he targets Rome and he writes this letter to get them ready for his coming, to get their thinking prepared, even as he’s getting our thinking prepared, for the mission and for the completion of that mission. For Paul, the farthest reaches was taking the Gospel to Spain. For us, it's even farther. Isn’t it?
And so we believe that Paul wrote this letter in roughly the year 58 AD and it was probably delivered to the church in Rome - Paul was in Corinth when he wrote this letter - and it was probably delivered by a woman whose named was Phoebe, not Kruger, but Phoebe whose last name we don’t know! We get this from chapter 16 verse 1 where Paul says, “I commend to you our sister, Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchrea.” Cenchrea was the port part of the city of Corinth where Paul was. “I commend her to you that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and help her in whatever way she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.” And as in every missionary support raising letter, almost every missionary support raising letter, there’s a financial ask where a missionary says, “I need you to pray for me. I need you to send money to get me where I need to go.” The ask for Paul is in chapter 15 verse 20 where he says it this way. “Thus I make it my ambition to preach the Gospel not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation. But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you” - verse 24 - “I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain and to be helped on my journey there by you once I have enjoyed your company for a while.”
Paul is building a case for the people in Rome to get personally invested not just in receiving him when he comes to visit but propelling him forward in this place that Paul says, “I’ve got to take the Gospel to Spain.” And where you see that most clearly - I’m going to ask you to do something. I didn’t tell you what page. If you’re using the church Bible, it’s on page 944, but if you’re using your own Bible I’d like you to take your finger and put it at the first chapter of Romans, Romans 1 - hold it there. And put another finger in the last chapter of the book of Romans, chapter 16. And I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this, but you know Paul is a brilliant pedagogue. He’s a great teacher. He doesn’t waste words; he’s linear. He builds a case. He writes like an attorney. But what he’s done, and I don’t know if you’ve been this, but he specifically bookends this magnum opus or rich theology, he bookends it with one phrase repeated twice - at the very beginning, the opening paragraph, and the same phrase at the closing paragraph.
Romans chapter 1 verse 5, starting in verse 4 really - “Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations.” Hold that in your mind; keep your finger there. If you want to underline it - “the obedience of faith among all the nations.” All the ethnic groups of the world. Last paragraph of Romans. Turn there. Romans 16:26. He speaks there of “the mystery of the Gospel which has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God to bring about” - what? “The obedience of faith.” The opening paragraph, the closing paragraph - he bookends the whole flow of all this rich theology, one purpose - to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations. To bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations. And all that theology hangs between that singular aim - the beginning and the end. That’s where Paul’s going. He’s not just teaching a theology class. What he’s saying - and we could finish this sermon right here but there’s so much practically to see. What he’s saying is, this is not just yours to enjoy for yourself. Let me show you how rich this Gospel is so that once you see it afresh you’ll say, “Oh, oh yeah. This is to bring about the obedience of faith in me and the obedience of faith to the farthest reaches of the world. That’s the point of this Gospel message.”
Mission of the Holy Spirit
So what does that have to do with us in Jackson in 2019? Well, the Holy Spirit is on a mission. It’s the same mission about which the apostle Paul writes in the opening and closing paragraphs. The mission I would put specifically like this - Jesus said in John 16:14, He said, “The mission of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Me.” The Holy Spirit’s mission is to glorify Jesus. Practically, the way He does that unpacked through the book of Romans and specifically Romans chapter 8 which we’ve just read, the Holy Spirit, His mission is to lead you to experience life, supernatural life really, and the Holy Spirit’s mission is to enable you to lead others to life. The Holy Spirit’s mission is to lead you to experience life, supernatural life, and His mission is to enable you to lead others to experience supernatural life.
I’m trying to watch the time carefully because there is a lot of ground to cover. But briefly in Romans chapter 8 you probably noticed the emphasis as we read those seventeen verses, the emphasis on life and living. Seven times, Paul uses that word “to live according to the flesh.” The Spirit is your life. The Spirit gives you life. Living according to the flesh. Living according to the Spirit. And really what Paul is doing is he’s contrasting two ways to live - a way to live that comes naturally, that’s living by the flesh, and a way to live that comes supernaturally, that’s living in the Spirit. Living naturally and supernaturally; the flesh and the Spirit. The flesh he mentions thirteen times in those verses we’ve read. Living supernaturally, living by the Spirit, he mentions that twenty-one times.
And so practically, how is he going to bring that about? I’d like to give you three practical ways that He’s going to be working in your life. And I highlight these so that you’ll be even more motivated to participate in all the events of this Mission Conference. I should say, there’s something going on every night during this Mission Conference. You can be out of the house every night. It will be exhausting. I do believe it will be worth it.
To Make You Obedient
So number one, the Holy Spirit is on mission to make you obedient. And it’s not an obedience measured by success or what is likely to work out well. You know we measure whether or not we’re going to obey by, “Is this going to have a good outcome?” Or if this is not likely to turn out well, “Why would I go in that direction?” The point is, we’ve been called to obedience, but it’s not an obedience of duty. It’s not an obedience of fear of punishment. It’s not an obedience of competition. It’s not a mercenary obedience where we do this because we really want to get something from God. But as Paul said at the beginning and at the end of his letter, it’s an obedience of faith. An obedience of faith.
Obedience of Faith
Now scholars wrestle with this and they ask, “Is this an obedience that is faith? We’re commanded to believe the Gospel, and so faith is an act of obedience. Or is it the obedience that flows out of the fact that we’ve already placed our faith in Christ? Which is it?” The simplest answer is that it’s clearly both. We were commanded to repent and believe the Gospel. That’s faith. The faith that it takes that “God really will forgive me and restore me and embrace me and make me His own.” That takes faith. It’s the obedience of faith. And it’s the obedience that grows out of our faith. It’s a life of obedience that comes from walking with Jesus. We could go through the entire book of Romans and look at all the expressions of what this Gospel is and what kind of faith grows out of embracing this Gospel - a bold and beautiful and ever-growing faith that is quicker to repent, that is more willing to see our sin and run back to our Redeemer for forgiveness. But it’s also a faith that says, “How do I serve? How do I engage in His mission? Where can I be of value in the finishing of the mission that Jesus has given to His church?”
The point is this. If you’re truly clinging to the Gospel by faith, there is an obedience of faith. I’ll give you one simple example. Rosaria Butterfield’s book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key” - another little commercial, if you’ve not read that book yet it’s in our bookstore. It’s a difficult book to read and you have to read it in short chunks, but it talks about “How does embracing the Gospel transform us into people who live lives of hospitality where strangers become neighbors and neighbors become family in Christ?” It will rock your world but I challenge you to read it.
One of her illustrations goes to 1 Corinthians chapter 10 verse 13, a familiar verse where Paul says, "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation, He will also provide the way of escape that you may be able to endure it.” Here’s the phrase - “with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape.” And Rosaria asks the question, “What if your obedience is the God-ordained means of escape for someone else’s temptation?” I reread that yesterday and it hit me. What if my obedience or your obedience of faith literally provides the way of escape that God has intended for someone else’s temptation or crisis?
Here’s how she talked about that. What if you’re inviting someone into your home on a Sunday afternoon, provided a means for someone to come to your place to escape their loneliness, their depression, their addiction, the temptations they would otherwise feel? What if someone was sitting at your table on a Sunday afternoon as a means of escaping from the pornography they’d be looking at all afternoon if they weren’t in your home? There’s an obedience of faith. If you’ve embraced this message of the Gospel there is an obedience of faith - not that we’re out to earn something or prove something or afraid of how God will respond to us or if we’re afraid of how we’ll look if we don’t obey. There’s an obedience of faith that’s a joy, an outgrowth of knowing we belong to Him already. How would we not want to live that kind of life of obedience?
The Gospel in You
And notice that Paul talks about this obedience all throughout the letter. Not in a way of saying, “Look how great the need is in Spain. That’s why I want you to send me and support me financially to get to Spain.” It’s not that the need is so great, though it is. What he’s saying actually is, “Look how great the Gospel is in you. Look how it’s changing you and freeing you and emboldening you. And because the Gospel is so great in you, God is calling you to obedience of faith.”
To Make You Generous
Secondly, the Holy Spirit is on mission to make you generous. That’s what he says in verse 24. “I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain and to be helped on my journey there by you once I have enjoyed your company for a while.” Paul is simply saying, “Your generosity will get me where I otherwise could not go.” And so the Holy Spirit's mission, first of all, is to make you obedient - obedience of faith. Secondly, to make you generous. And he illustrates that generosity that the Holy Spirit is on a mission to create within you. He illustrates that in chapter 15 verse 25. And listen carefully to the financial language. He almost overuses it to make a point. He’s subtle but he’s direct really. He says, “At present” - Romans 15:25 - “At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid, financial aid, to the saints. For” - here’s the illustration - “For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they also ought to be of service (financial service) to them in material blessings (money). When therefore I have completed this and delivered to them what has been collected financially, I will leave for Spain by way of you.” The mission of the Holy Spirit is to make you generous, more generous than you ever thought possible.
I read a report from one of our missionaries who’s actually one of the directors for Redeemer City to City, a church planting ministry out of Tim Keller’s church in New York that we participate in. And this man works in the Asia Pacific region and wrote of a fundraising gathering that they had in the Asia Pacific region this past fall. And their goal was to raise $1 million, US. And that was an ambitious goal; at least so they thought. And they invited people - no one from the United States came. These were all Southeast Asian people who were invited to this event to raise money for planting churches across Southeast Asia. One of the leaders in this organization said, “You know, we serve a big God. Let’s not ask Him for $1 million. Let’s ask Him for $5 million to plant churches. Imagine how we could accelerate church planting with $5 million.” And so they began praying that God would bless them and encourage and lead those people who came to that event to the obedience of faith that would flow into generosity - rich, unimaginable generosity - $5 million. When it was all said and done, $8.7 million were collected for church planting in Southeast Asia through these people, none of whom were Americans, who came. The Holy Spirit’s mission is to make us generous, more generous than we ever imagined we could ever be. To take the Gospel where it would otherwise never go.
To Make You Pray
Finally, third, the Holy Spirit is on mission to make you pray. Actually, to make you a man or woman of prayer. I ought to pause and ask you, “Are you?” I mean if I asked your spouse or your kids, “Is he a man of prayer? Is she a woman of prayer?” Or if I asked that of myself, “Am I a man of prayer?” If I were transparent I would say, “I want to be. I know I should be.” But if my theology of prayer, if I really bought into that, I would be living a life of prayer that would look very different from what it actually does. And I say that to my shame. Asking God for forgiveness of the sin of not living a life of prayer as I know I should. Because if you’re like me, you probably think that there is so much I have to do and doing something, coming up with a plan to do something is more important than stopping or even spending long seasons of time praying that God would work as we stand still and watch, or engage and watch Him at work.
People of Prayer
Paul’s clear teaching about the Holy Spirit’s mission to make us people of prayer, you see that in Romans 15 verse 30. He says, “I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, that my service for Jerusalem would be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.” What Paul is saying is simply this. He is in Corinth, he wants to get to Rome so that he can get to Spain, but between Corinth and Rome, he’s got to go through Jerusalem. He’s taking a financial gift and he knows that there are people in Jerusalem who could completely derail the entire plan. And so as he sends this missionary support raising letter to the church, to the believers in Rome by the hand of Phoebe who is making a trip there, he says, “Not only am I asking you to support me financially, generously, but would you pray that I actually get from where I am in Corinth to Jerusalem to Rome and then onto Spain?”
To Strive Together
The Holy Spirit’s mission is to make you a man or woman, a boy or girl of prayer, so much so that Paul uses a specific language - we translate it “strive together.” The Greek word is “agonizomai” - together agonize in prayer. Have you agonized in prayer about anything this past week? Did you agonize in prayer before you ate your lunch today? I don’t think I did. Did you or I agonize about anything in prayer during the last month? Do we know anything about agonizing in prayer? Another Mission Conference plug - our brothers and sisters in China today, they know something about agonizing in prayer in what is today unprecedented persecution. Even today, husbands and wives are being separated from each other and from their children because of their commitment to Christ, their obedience to faith. They are agonizing in prayer that the Holy Spirit would step in.
Saturday evening we'll have a special event. This will be February 23, in Miller Hall, called "Standing with the Church in China." In God's providence, He sent to us a lot of people who are personally invested in China and we are going to hear from them not just for information but we are going to intersperse that hour and a half program with lots of prayer. And we’ll even learn to pray as they pray, in models not familiar to us. We’ll hear from David Strain who has just returned from that part of the world. But I encourage you to make plans to come to that event as well. Strive together in prayer.
Kingdom Expansion Through Prayer
Paul puts it this way in his letter to the church in Corinth - 2 Corinthians 10:3. He says, “Though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments at every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” You know what prayer is? It’s taking every thought captive. It’s taking the promises of God and we are demolishing the strongholds of the enemy through prayer. It is that significant of a reality and most of us miss it. It is the most formidable weapon we have and we are so casual about it. I have heard myself say to people, to my shame, when I listen to the crisis in their lives and I say, "Man, I wish I could do something to help. All I can do is pray." How dumb is that? Isn't that the most profound and powerful thing we can do - to ask the King, as Hunter talked about with our kids, to ask the King of the universe to intervene, to have mercy, and do what our King has promised. The God of peace will soon crush the enemy under your feet. Isn’t that an interesting image? The God of peace will soon crush the enemy under your feet. He does that as we pray. His kingdom moves forward as we pray.
I have so many other passages to talk to you about but I’m out of time. I’ll leave you with one picture. Two Sundays ago, Warner and Becky Mitchell stopped me at the door and told me about an article they had read in WORLD Magazine that reminded me of a passage that I had pointed to. I did the research, found some more information about it, and I'll tell you about it. I’m just going to read this to you so I don’t mess up the details:
In 1893, a Canadian doctor, William Leslie, went to serve as a missionary to tribal people in a remote corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo - 1893. He served there for thirty-six years. He learned the language of the Yangtze people. He taught the tribal children how to read and write. He developed an educational system throughout their villages. He told Bible stories and he tried to teach the Bible to the adults. That was it. In 1929, after thirty-six years of ministering there and seeing very little change, the leaders of these Yangtze tribes became angry with Dr. Leslie and they forced him out of their area. He had to leave the country and return to Canada a defeated man - 1929. You know what was going on in the world at that time. He was defeated, saw his ministry, thirty-six years of ministry a failure in the Congo. He believed he had failed to make any real impact for Christ. No Bible was translated into their language. He had told Bible stories; he had taught them to people. He had taught them to read. Oh, and the people knew French. Some of them had French Bibles. He died several years later believing that thirty-six years of ministry was a failure.
But it was obedience of faith, which means you may not see how it’s going to work. I could stop the story there, pronounce the benediction, and it would be true and valid, wouldn’t it? But here’s the rest of the story. Seventy-two years later, 2010, a team of researchers made a shocking discovery. They weren’t looking for this. They stumbled on it and didn’t know what they had found until they asked questions and did some research and put the dots together. The researchers entered this Yangtze area and found a network of reproducing churches hidden like glittering diamonds in the dense jungle along the Quilu River at Vanga where they later discovered was where Dr. Leslie and his family were stationed. They found a church in each of the eight villages they visited, scattered across thirty-four miles, and even found a 1,000 seat stone cathedral in one of the villages. Picture it - this sanctuary holds about 1,400 people. In one of these villages, they found a stone cathedral. I saw the picture of it; you can research this. A thousand seat cathedral. And learned that this church had gotten so crowded in the 1980s with many people walking miles to attend it that a church planting movement began in the surrounding villages. And that’s why there was a church in every one of these villages in that Vanga area. Each village had its own Gospel choir. They wrote their own songs and would even have sing-offs as the choirs traveled from one village to another.
How did it happen? The Holy Spirit carried out His mission as God’s people walked in the obedience of faith, as God’s people were generous, as God’s people prayed. Dr. Leslie never saw it. He saw it as a failure, but he was obedience. Not in a mercenary way, not because he was forced, not because he feared the consequences of not being obedient. But it was the obedience of faith.
One last thing. One ruling elder in our church, for whom I have a great deal of respect, said, “Ed, you really need to be clear in challenging our people to come to this Mission Conference.” And he said, “No, you need to dare them to come. Dare them to come and let them know that there is a high risk that the Holy Spirit will radically change them if they come." I believe the risk is high. The Holy Spirit is at work. He is on mission. In the process, He will change you into someone you never imagined and He will use you to accomplish what you never thought possible. Let’s pray together.
Holy Spirit, would You please do that in each of our lives. Embolden us, empower us, propel us forward, make us people of prayer, people who agonize in prayer, who claim Your promises before Your throne. Make us people of unimaginable generosity - not just with our money but with our time, with our homes, with our families, with our agendas. Make us even to tithe our time so that we are deliberately taking weekly and daily time to engage with others for the sake of the kingdom. And then invite us, empower us to live in the obedience of faith because of Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.
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