Tag Archives: encouragement

Edify or Amplify?

eyeseeyou

The Case for Rejecting Instruments in the Assembly

Churches of Christ (the a cappella segment) seem to be becoming very different very quickly.  Several larger congregations and a number of smaller ones (I have no idea of the actual numbers) have opted for adding mechanical (as opposed to vocal) instruments to their assemblies (I absolutely refuse to call them “worship services” as that description of assemblies of the saints is nowhere to be found in Scripture – and, when you think about it, it betrays an ignorance of the meanings of both “worship” and “service”).  For over a century, one of the distinguishing marks of churches of Christ was strong opposition to the use of instruments in assemblies.  Countless debates, articles and divisions occurred with both sides remaining unconvinced.

It will not be my purpose here to pile more verbiage on the tons of arguments by taking one side or the other.  I’m not sure it would serve any purpose except to put me in one opposing camp or another.  No, my point will be something different.  I want us to take an honest look at our motives.  WHY are we ditching our a cappella tradition?

The most common reason given is some variation on the desire to attract a younger, hipper crowd into our buildings.  One group is currently remodeling their auditorium to add a stage for the musicians.  If we build it, they reason, they will come.  Sound familiar?  Put simply, it is an attempt to increase attendance at their “worship services.”

At this point let me ask a question that seldom seems asked: what are assemblies for?  No…not what do you WANT them for but what are they REALLY for?  By that I mean what does Scripture say they are for?

·         Are they for “seekers?”  Can you show me a passage for that?

·         Are they for the entertainment of the members?  Passage?

·         Are they for the excitement of the members?  Passage?

·         Are they for the encouragement of the members?  Bingo!

·         Are they for the edification of the members?  Score!

Our purpose for assemblies and our conduct during them seems to be the focus of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in chapters eleven and fourteen.  He deals with several subjects but his emphasis; especially in chapter fourteen is edification.  Edification has absolutely nothing to do with attracting a crowd and blowing them away with sanctified rock (make no mistake, I like to rock as much as anyone).  To edify is to instruct and improve especially in moral and religious knowledge…promoting the spiritual growth and development of character of believers, by teaching or by example.  Look it up.  Paul goes so far as to say, “…let all things be done for edification” (I Corinthians 14:26).

So.  How do we instruct and promote each other’s spiritual growth?  One of the most important and effective ways is by singing to one another (Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16).  Notice that our singing is for teaching and admonishing one another.  Sorry folks, well-choreographed and orchestrated performances accomplish nothing assembly is designed for.  In truth, they hinder the process.  Inevitably, the volume gets louder and louder.  How can we edify one another if we can’t hear the singing of the one standing next to us?  Read lips? Not likely!

Could this be the reason we are commanded to sing to one another?  Singing with thankfulness is not assisted by a groovy drummer, hot guitarist, deft keyboardist and a soloist who’s been listening to a lot of contemporary Christian radio.  Save all that for a concert.

Are there exceptions?  Of course.  Some of the new contemporary music conveys wonderful spiritual, edifying truths.  Even a cappella churches have adapted and incorporated some of these songs in our assemblies.  In my experience, however, the mechanical instruments overwhelm the potential edification as they play louder and louder.

Here is the crux of the problem as I see it: we have turned our assemblies into something they were never intended to be.  They are times of encouragement and edification.  When this is not accomplished, our assemblies are failures no matter how well choreographed they are.  When we leave behind principles and purposes taught by Scripture; when we replace them with innovations never envisioned by the Spirit; when edification and encouragement are no longer the focus of our assemblies; when synthetic externals take precedence over spiritual internals — we can expect to fail.  In the words of Hosea (8:7), we have sown the wind and are now reaping the whirlwind.

Here are a couple of articles that, while I don’t agree with everything they say, help make my point: http://churchformen.com/uncategorized/have-christians-stopped-singing/  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/afewgrownmen/2013/05/why-men-have-stopped-singing-in-church/

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Filed under "Worship Services", Assemblies, church, Church Buildings, Churches, discipleship, Edification, Ekklesia, Encouragement, History, Holy Spirit, Ignorance, Music, Restoration, Singing, Songs, Thankfulness

So What Can I Do?

eyeseeyouI have finally come to grips that I will not be a “mover and a shaker.”  The world, alas, is not clamoring for my opinions, my advice, my counsel, my pontifications.  The President and members of congress no longer call (man, could I give them an earful if they did!).  It has been some time since some anchor person contacted me to get my take on foreign or domestic events and developments.  Celebrities fail to call me for my thoughts on the directions their careers should take.  No one sends me scripts for potential movies or plays anymore.  Congress persists in passing bills without my input.

So what can I do to make the world a better place?  Jesus said we can do this by serving; by letting our light shine through our good works (Matthew 5:13,14).  Consider:

Think of your fellow man
lend him a helping hand
put a little love in your heart.
You see it’s getting late
oh please don’t hesitate
put a little love in your heart.
And the world will be a better place
and the world will be a better place
for you and me
you just wait and see.

–Jackie Deshannon

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Preaching as Position

 

Foxworthy Preacher

Photo from Randy Boyd via Levi Sisemore

Generally, I love the comedy of Jeff Foxworthy.  This time I am both laughing and crying.  I was a preacher for a long time and I know the pressures of the profession.  When the congregation is not growing/happy/interested/involved/etc., the preacher is the first one blamed and, very often, sent packing.  Maybe a new preacher will be more dynamic/younger/pretty/gregarious/educated/entertaining/etc.  Sorry, Jeff, that’s not really his job.

Most of this pressure is because we have become assembly-oriented.  “Going to church” is the expected and almost exclusive activity of the majority.  Because of this, it had better be well-orchestrated (maybe even have an orchestra).  If “going to church” is not interesting/exciting/ entertaining, then attendees will drift to a more appealing (I almost wrote, “appalling”) venue.  Consequently, all kinds of shenanigans are pulled to draw the crowds away from one congregation to another.

It never seems to cross our minds that our purpose is not to have the biggest congregation, but simply to follow Christ with the strength and wisdom that God provides.  It doesn’t seem to occur to us that assemblies are for edification and encouragement.  If we restore assemblies to their scriptural purpose, we won’t need smoke bombs, rock bands and a new preacher to keep folks coming back.

The light that we are commissioned to bring to all the world has nothing to do with electricity.  It has everything to do with letting the light of Jesus shine through our words, actions and attitudes, bringing glory to God.

Nowhere in the instructions of Jesus and the apostles is there even a hint of having preacher as a position, much less heaping upon him primary responsibility for the state of the congregation and the quality of the “worship service” (a term not found in Scripture).

With church affiliation declining across the denominational spectrum, it is high time to take a fresh look at Scripture.  Are we truly following Christ into the world or leaving him in the uncomfortable streets while we attend another comfortable “worship service” in our well-appointed “church buildings?”

May God forgive me (us) for participating so long in something so foreign to Scripture and deviant to our purpose.

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Getting Them “In”

eyeseeyouChurch leaders are lamenting declining attendance and seeking creative ways to get people into their buildings.  Preachers are even going to where the people are…imagine that!  (Sounds suspiciously like something Jesus did.)  But the goal appears to ultimately get people into their “worship services.” (We seem to forget that we are the “called out” not the “called in.”)

I hate to break it to you, but that’s not going to work.  People have better things to do with their time than to file into an auditorium, sing a few songs, listen to a few prayers, observe a few rituals, pay homage to a few traditions and listen to a monologue that may or may not be relevant…all the while staring at the back of the heads seated in front of them.

Some pin their hopes of getting people into their auditoriums on hiring a hotshot young Osteen-like preacher and a rockin’ band led by a highly talented choreographer/director/producer.  Unfortunately, without a large membership and a large budget, small congregations are left out in the cold.

The only way to increase attendance in assemblies is something any church of any size can do: fulfill their intended purpose namely, to build up our fellow disciples.  What we are doing now is just not cutting it.  When our assemblies become focused on encouragement, enlightenment and stirring up one another to love and good works…our assemblies will be packed.

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THANK YOU!

 

eyeseeyouI am thankful to God for so many things…primarily that He has loved me so much that He has made provision for my eternity through the gift of His Son and the Grace and truth He introduced into the world.  It is beyond possible to thank Him enough.

I also have multitudes of people to thank in this life.  If it were not for my late father-in-law, and his generosity life would have been very difficult in some of the early years of our marriage when medical bills threatened to sink our ship.  I don’t think we ever asked for his help, he was just tuned-in enough to know when it was needed.  I trust he is enjoying his heavenly reward.

Nearly every job I’ve had was the result of someone suggesting, recommending, pulling strings, pulling rank or vouching for me.  I can only think of a few times I was hired because I acted totally on my own.

The church has been the source of so many blessings.  Lake Highlands church in Dallas was my sponsoring congregation as Brenda and I did mission work in Australia.  Aside from their prayers and monetary support, they sent things to us that made our work easier.  North Davis church in Arlington literally saved us from being homeless and broke during a very difficult time.  Our present church home, University church in Abilene has overflowed with kindness toward us many times.

I don’t ever want to be guilty of forgetting those I cannot embarrass by naming here.  Brenda and I have been the recipient of gifts from many people in Australia and here at home.  Frequently those gifts have arrived at very critical times.  We have enjoyed the hospitality of wonderful Australian and New Zealand saints in our travels.  They have fed us, sheltered us and entertained us simply out of their love for Jesus.  Truly, God works through His people!

In my meditations I often review, with tears, the kindnesses and mercies of God and His people who have loved us, prayed for us and given to us.  I can only say from the depths of my heart, THANK YOU!

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10 Things Christians Must Do Now

Do we want to be taken seriously?  Do we want to overcome misconceptions about our faith and practice? Do we hope to ever fulfill our mission and make an impact on our culture?  Then here (in no particular order) are a few things I believe we must do:

  1. Refuse to let public lies (false teachings) stand publically unopposed.  When someone lies publically, someone needs to publically expose and oppose that lie and tell the truth no matter what it costs.  That is part of our job as the called-out of Christ.
  2. Refuse to be lulled into the toleration and acceptance of immorality.  Think about what we tolerate which would never have been accepted twenty years ago.  If it was truly wrong then, it is truly wrong today.  If it was ever a sin, it is a sin now.
  3. Ignore those who equate Christianity with established religious groups…no matter how ancient.  Foolish and ignorant critics will blame Christ-followers for the excesses of those who, over the centuries, falsely labeled themselves “Christians.”  True followers of Christ were never involved in the exploitation, suppression, torture and/or death of any person or group.
  4. Rise above the prevailing gloom and hopelessness of today’s culture.  We enjoy and offer the world a way of hope, abundant life, joy (not the same as “happiness”) and an eternal end of suffering.  We are “light-bringers.”
  5. Renounce materialism and greed.  We must recognize the love of money and “stuff” for what it is – the source of evil.  Christians must learn to be content with what is needed for life.  Food, clothing, shelter, healthcare and transportation are all we need.  The overflow needs to be shared.
  6. Combine good deeds with good news in holy symbiosis.  One without the other will not accomplish our mission.  Very few will be persuaded by a failure to combine these initiatives.  This is what Jesus did…this is what we must do.
  7. Renounce citizenship of a country in favor of citizenship in God’s kingdom.  Jesus’s kingdom is not of this world.  Political parties and their candidates have serious flaws and faults; the Kingdom is perfect and flawless.  We are not mere Americans, Germans, Poles, Russians, Australians, etc.  We are citizens of a nation with no boundaries, no racial, linguistic barriers.  Thy kingdom come!
  8. Get out of our meeting places and into the streets.  Quit expecting people to come to us and do what Jesus did: go to the people.  Do good deeds!  Proclaim Christ!
  9. Quit “going to church.”  Restore the true purpose of assemblies.  Assemblies are a means to an end, not an end.  “Faithfulness” is far more than attendance.  Assemblies are for edification and encouragement.  If they fail in that regard, they are useless.
  10. Think and act as the counter-culture we were meant to be.

“The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.” (Martin Luther King Jr.)

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From Service to Service

We read recently of a church that transitioned from primarily serving themselves to serving others as the result of a natural disaster.  I thought, “Hooray!  That’s one!”  Regrettably, this kind of change is outstanding because of its rarity.  Why is understanding and practicing the principle of serving so difficult for those who are followers of the One who said He came to serve and not to be served?

It’s ironic that we have come to call our times of assembly “services.”  Really?  Who are we serving?

  • Are we serving God?  Exactly how are we doing that passively sitting in a building?
  • Are we serving our brothers and sisters?  How? By sleepily listening to a preacher or singing to the back of their heads?
  • Are we serving our community?  Is that remotely possible segregated from the community with our butts planted in a pew/chair in one of our edifices?
  • Are we serving our world? How?  It is a stretch to gather into the rarified atmosphere of some auditorium going through motions of minimal meaning and claim we are “serving.”

Our times of assembly can be times of service if we turn them into times of edification and encouragement.  If our preaching, singing, partaking of the wine and bread bring us closer to each other and our Lord then mission accomplished.  If, however, we continue to lethargically linger to lifelessly go through the routine “exercises of this service” (“exercises” is an interesting way to put it), then, at the end of the closing prayer rush to our cars, who will be served?

True service will be accomplished in the world…not out of it (those who isolate themselves in monastic solitude need to understand this).  Our service must be taken out of our comfortable retreats and into our uncomfortable world.  Let’s lift up our eyes.  We are surrounded by suffering and need.  If Christians responded to these realities, there would be little need for a “Nanny State.”

There is no power greater than the words and works of the Holy Spirit as we blend the gospel with service.  One without the other is like faith without works: dead and useless.  Put them together and people will be saved physically, emotionally and, most importantly, spiritually and eternally.

To pin our hopes for national and international salvation on electing the right president, senator or congressperson is misguided and a striving after wind (and, we are getting a lot of “wind” at the moment).  Taking the same energy expended to get our favorite candidate into office and turning it to serve our world and save its lost would truly answer the prayer, “Thy kingdom come.”

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Filed under Change Agent, Christlikeness, church, Community, Kingdom Growth, Religion

Are You Lonely?

Ah, look at all the lonely people.

All the lonely people, where do they all come from?

All the lonely people, where do they all belong?

(“Eleanor Rigby” by John Lennon and Paul McCartney)

In the near future, it will be my honor to conduct a wedding ceremony.  In my remarks I nearly always quote the passage: “The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18).  If all goes as planned, this couple will grow old together.  They will experience work and play, sorrow and joy, love and heartache, victory and defeat.  Most likely one will die before the other and the one left behind will know (as they never could otherwise) what it means to be lonely.  Their years of togetherness will be a wonderful, glowing memory.

Humans were not created to be alone.  We are a “flocking animal.”  Some animals are “loners” by nature.  They wander solo through most of the year and only congregate with others of their species at mating season to reproduce.

Oh yes, a great number of our sort seem to seek the lonely life.  They live alone, eat alone and, aside from the occasional one-night-stand, sleep alone.  Even in a crowd they may seek to be alone.  But we humans were meant for deeper relationships.  When we keep things shallow we miss most of the richness and consolation of life.

Loneliness seldom works for long.  It seldom works well.  Early in my backpacking days I was warned to “…never hike alone.”  If you’ve seen the film, 127 Hours, you know what I’m talking about.  Too many things, some deadly, can happen – falls, snakebites, sprained ankles, encounters with unfriendly animals, getting lost, getting stuck and other situations and circumstances where companions become lifesavers.  We all need companions, comrades, confidantes, confessors…friends to share life’s joys, triumphs, sorrows and challenges.

There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother.
There was no end to his toil,  yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.
“For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”
This too is meaningless— a miserable business!
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
(Ecclesiastes 4:8-12)

Are you lonely?  Are you trying to fly solo through an empty sky?  May I suggest a way to land safely?  In every community of size there’s a group of people who will eagerly befriend you.  They meet together one or more times a week to connect with their Creator and each other.  Oh, they’re not perfect (just like you) but they’re not lonely.  They’ll take you in and overlook your faults if you will theirs.  It is a safe place where God teaches us how to love Him and each other.  They pray together, sing together and seek guidance in God’s Word together.  And, every so often they will sing:

Blest be the tie that binds, / Our hearts in Christian love,
The fellowship of kindred minds / Is like to that above.
Before our Father’s throne, / We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, / Our comforts and our cares.
We share our mutual woes / Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows / The sympathizing tear.

If you are seeking an end to loneliness, let me know where you live and I will do my best to help you find a group of friends who just might be seeking you.

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Filed under church, Community, Encouragement, Life, Loneliness, Love, Love and Marriage, Singing, Trust

Guilty of Being Too Gracious

Trey Morgan

If you don’t subscribe to Trey Morgan’s blog, you ought to.  He is a very thoughtful writer and preacher.  He preaches in Childress, Texas and if you ask me, they are extremely fortunate to have him.  I had an article all ready to post when I read this and thought I must share it with all my readers. Take my advice and go to his blog site here and read his past and present postings.  You’ll be blessed.  I was especially touched by his latest: A $2.99 Hug.

When he asked me the question, I knew I’d heard that type of question before. It was one of those, “What if a person is doing…,” questions that ended with, “Will that person get to go to heaven or hell?”He was calling someone’s morality into question, and I could tell by how he asked, he wasn’t really asking the question because he wanted to know, but because he wanted to trap me with the question. It was the same thing the Pharisees did to Jesus on many occasions.

My answer was simple, “That’s totally up to God. He’s the one who makes the decisions on who goes to heaven and who doesn’t.”

I could tell my answer frustrated him. Redness was building from his neck up to his face. “I knew that’s what you’d say,” he said with a frustrated tone. “I don’t even know why I asked you. You’re too soft on people.”

I smiled and told him, “I’m sorry, but I got out of judging business long ago. Who gets in and who doesn’t is not not my place to decide. But”, I told him, “If I’m going to err on one side or the other, I’d rather err on the side of mercy.” He didn’t like that much either.

I left feeling good about my answer. I still feel the same way today.  I think Jesus was a perfect example when it came to being gracious to others. Remember how Jesus acted around those whose lives weren’t exactly to what God wanted? A prostitute, a wealthy exploiter, a Samaritan woman with several husbands, a woman caught in adultery – all people that Jesus would have had a problem with their lifestyle. Yet all found grace and mercy from Jesus instead of condemnation. No wonder Jesus gained the reputation as being a “friend of sinners.” Maybe we can learn a lot about how to treat people by watching Jesus in action.

When I stand before God someday, if I’m found guilty of anything, I want to be found guilty of being too gracious, too forgiving and too merciful. I feel I have a better chance with God that way than I do if I’m found too harsh, too judgmental and too unsympathetic.

“You’re too soft on people,” that guy said to me that day. Well if too soft means too merciful … then I pray I’m guilty as charged!

“So you must show mercy to others, or God will not show mercy to you when he judges you. But the person who shows mercy can stand without fear at the judgment.”   ~ James 2:13


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LIFE CHOICES

Funny thing about the choices we make in life. Age, experience and hindsight make it so easy to see that some of them were the wrong choices. I have often wished I could have another go at life and, with the accumulated wisdom and experience I now have, plus a solid dependence upon the indwelling Holy Spirit, make different and better choices. Alas, such a thing is never to be. You and I will have to live with the choices we made and where they have brought us, regrets and all.

If, however, you are young enough to have a good deal of your life ahead of you, you might benefit from some fatherly advice about the choices you will be presented with.

  1. Choose your life’s work based on your talent and passion. God has given you certain abilities. Put them to work in your life. If you choose a career outside of your God-given aptitudes, you risk mediocrity. Passion will drive you to take your lumps, pay your dues and earn your stripes.
  2. Listen to your gut. Believe it or not, your gut knows more than your head. You can rationalize nearly anything but if your gut tells you it is wrong, believe it! Your choice may not be logical but gut feelings are not based on logic and reason. Your gut is much more fundamental. It is based on your whole being. This is not to say that you won’t make some decisions you regret but, for the most part, you will make better ones.
  3. Take the advice of others with a very large grain of salt. They are not you.  They have their own interests, beliefs, passions and agenda which they will happily transfer to (place upon) you. Don’t let others force you into their mold. Listen to them, talk to the Lord about it, but make your decision based on ability, aptitude and, once again, gut.
  4. Marry well. Marriage is a huge and, hopefully, permanent decision. Choose wisely the person you will live with for the rest of your life. Look below the surface (beauty, wealth, etc.) and find the “real person” (integrity, honesty, spirituality, etc.). Later on down the line if you make the wrong choice, you will be miserable. Think you will just divorce? Ask around, divorce is one of the most painful experiences you can go through, especially if children are involved. Become respectful, trusted friends before you marry.
  5. Seek fulfillment, not money. There are plenty of rich people who will confirm all the old sayings about money, love and happiness. To use your God-given abilities to the very best you can is the only true and lasting fulfillment.
  6. Get a clear and accurate understanding of success. When we say someone is “successful” we are usually referring to the money and material they have accumulated. That’s not success! Success is when you fulfill what God created you to be and do. Again, what is your talent? What are your abilities? Have you used them? If so, then you are successful no matter how much money you make.
  7. Be ready to be treated harshly and unfairly. Sorry, that’s the way life is. In the course of your life, you will encounter plenty of difficult and harsh situations. Even some people you have trusted will betray that trust. You will probably have your share of unfair bosses. You may be used, abused, walked on, gossiped and lied about. Don’t be surprised and remember, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
  8. Take joy! In between the difficult episodes, joys will fill the gap – if you let them.  Don’t miss out! Enjoy your spouse, enjoy your kids, enjoy your friends. Count your blessings and be grateful. Dance. Sing. Love.
  9. Cultivate mature friendships. True friends are a rare and valuable.  George Eliot said it so well: “Friendship reaches maturity when there is reciprocity, shared inner life, positive affection and equality.” The benefits of friendships are too numerous to mention. Men need men friends and women need woman friends. Speaking for us blokes, we need other guys who understand prostate difficulties and the many unique challenges of manhood.
  10. Be honestly, relentlessly introspective. If you are in a problem relationship (marriage, business partnership, friendship, team), recognize that in any relationship, the only person you can ultimately change is yourself.
  11. Be nice.  That means be polite, civil, respectful.  Love your neighbor and your enemies because it is the right thing to do and love covers a multitude of offenses.
  12. Don’t be a wimp.  Take chances. Try new things, new experiences (food, music, clothes, books, associations, techniques, strategies – you name it). Dare to fail because failure is the greatest teacher. Better to have tried and failed then not to have tried at all.
  13. On the other hand, don’t be stupid. Watch your money. Choose your friends wisely. Enter partnerships with your eyes wide open. Be loyal and faithful to your spouse. Practice personal purity. Look before you leap. Wear your safety gear.  Practice moderation. Remember what your mama said.
  14. Be part of a fellowship.  We were not meant to go through this life alone. We need God and each other. We need to be aware of each other’s problems, difficulties, trials and tribulations so we can comfort and encourage one another and pray for each other. When life batters you about, who you gonna call? Become part of a fellowship that worships, prays and sings together. If you don’t need others at the moment (I assure you that, in time, you will) they could certainly benefit from your strength.

Now is the time for you, dear reader to add to this list. Whether you are young or old, give us the benefit of your thinking. Between us, we can probably help our fellow-humans, young or old, to choose wisely and well.

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