Pastor’s Message: April

Dear Friends,

What do Billy Graham, Ken Dodd and Stephen Hawking have in common? They each reached the height of their chosen occupation; they might each be described as brilliant at what they did. What they each did was quite different, the first an evangelist with an international reputation; the second an entertainer and comedian with a career that spanned generations and the third a brilliant scientist of international repute who persevered even though he was a victim of motor neurone disease for over 40 years. There is however one other shared experience, they all died within three weeks of each other in 2018 aged 99, 90 and 76 respectively. I am writing this on the day that Stephen Hawkins died, so what are we to learn from the experience of these men?

I do not want to make any further personal comment on these men, with one exception towards the end of this letter. This world has produced many brilliant people, but Jesus poses the questions “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26) We might have the opportunity to develop our intellectual skills or to use our financial resources so that it might seem we are “self-made people”. We might have the ability to help and encourage people with our humour or different aspects of our personality, but will our popularity prepare us for eternity?

Jesus is clear that each human being has a soul that needs to be first of all revived or resuscitated and then needs to be fed and nourished. It is the one part of us that lives beyond physical death, until the day of Jesus Christ when the bodies of all people will be raised from the dead to face our Maker. The Bible is clear that without a living relationship with God, we are each spiritually dead because “(y)our disobedience and (y)our many sins” (Eph 2:1 NLT), but God has made every believer spiritually alive through faith (Eph 2:5). The implications of these facts are that we can work hard and be focussed; we can help other people in many and varied ways, but in fact do nothing of eternal value for ourselves or others.

Jesus came into this world, understanding the needs of all humanity and was focussed firstly on doing the will of God, and as a result of that, doing all that He could to redeem and restore human beings, so that life here on earth is given an eternal focus and that eternity is prepared for here and now. He did not fail, but in order to benefit from His success we have to acknowledge our limitations and failures, asking Him to forgive us and to prepare us for eternity. That must be done here on earth; it cannot be postponed.

The three men of whom I wrote earlier died at completely different ages. Scripture says
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,2)
There came a time in the lives of each of them when this life ceased, but in reality none of them knew the day of their death beforehand. Jesus addressed this uncertainty directly in Luke 12, where he spoke of a farmer who had been very successful and anticipated a long life, but “God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” This is a question that we all face. What will happen to all that we have gained or achieved in this life? The punch line as far as this story is concerned is verse 21, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God.”

It is good and right that we each use the natural and spiritual gifts that God has given each of us, but we are to use them in a daily relationship with God, so that our time, our skills and resources are used to the glory of God and the good of other people.

May God help each of us to live our lives in the presence of God and in preparation for eternity.

Your Finite Friend,
Bernard Lewis Apr. 2018

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Pastor’s Message: March

Dear Friends,

By the end of this month we will be again reminding ourselves of the events of the first Easter. Good Friday is 31st March and Easter Day is 1st April. For many this weekend will be just another chance to indulge themselves, with no thought of God. It is rather appropriate that Easter will be April Fool’s Day, because depending on their position many will be thought fools. In our society dominated by secular thought, those of us who take time to reflect on the greatest events in human history will be thought foolish; and yet Scripture is clear that those who live with no thought of God are foolish – ‘The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”’ (Ps 14:1). So how do we in fact decide who is the fool?

Our culture is becoming increasingly polarised. We have seen the tragedies caused when people with extreme convictions (both secular and religious) have been responsible for the deaths of others. As a result people are calling for “muscular liberalism” in our schools. Such a call is made because “extremists are using schools to ‘actively pervert the purpose of education’, peddling religious ideologies that narrow children’s horizons and cut them off from society.” (Daily Mail 8 Feb 2018). We could write a book in response to such an extreme statement. So called extreme Christianity cuts no one off from society, but demands that we live as a part of our society for the good of the whole of society. Any meaningful human society will have a variety of ideas and understandings, but we are not to gag our differences, but rather we are to discuss them and live in mutual respect even though there might be complete disagreement.

Easter is THE EXAMPLE OF EXTREME CHRISTIANITY. Jesus said “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.“ (Jn. 10:11) We can go through John’s Gospel and find other verses where Jesus made it clear that He lived and died for the good of others. Jesus was extreme and focussed in His approach to life. Although He made it clear that He often disagreed with people He never tried to condemn them. On the contrary we are told, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (Jn 3:17) In the spiritual realm we are told that “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 Jn 3:8), because the devil is set on destroying all that is good and beautiful, but Jesus came that He might restore humanity to a full and proper relationship with God.

In order to accomplish that restoration He went to extreme lengths. He humbled himself and gave up His rights and position as God. Unlike many today He did not demands His rights. From another angle He did not pass by on the other side saying “It’s got nothing to do with me”. He got so involved that He fully identified with the need of humanity, he took the blame – “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24) One hymn-writer put it this way “In my place condemned He stood”. It is said of the Christian God that He “… so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16)

Christianity is extreme. From a human angle it is foolish, “Why take responsibility for another’s failures?” It is this extreme foolishness that turned the New Testament world upside down, and throughout history has cared for the poor, provided for the widow, has provided schools and hospitals, liberated slaves and overthrown people-trafficking on a number of different occasions in a society that was often hostile to its teachings and love.

So how do we approach Easter this year? Let’s accept that our wider society not only thinks that we are foolish, but would falsely accuse us of being extremely destructive yet show them that we, like our Saviour love them and long that they might know the peace with God that comes through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord who was so extreme that He died that others might live. Even on the day He died He saved the life of a man who deserved his punishment.

Your Extreme Friend and Fellow-believer,

Bernard Lewis March 2018

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Pastor’s Message: February

Dear Friends,

Last month I entitled my letter ‘Looking Forward’, in order to help us focus on the hopes ahead and not on the concerns and possible failures of the past. This month I want us to ‘Look Up’. On Sunday 14 January I began the message looking at the significant number of difficulties experienced recently by many of our members. It has been a really difficult time and we have rightly spent time making sure that needy people in a number of different contexts are cared for. In that situation it is all too easy to spend time looking down or at our problems.

This reminded me of a bike ride that I took in Canada last year. My son’s father in law took us into a wonderful forest and when we got through the trees and back onto a sealed path he asked “Did you see those wonderful trees?” I had to say “Sorry! I was more concerned with keeping upright as we negotiated a steep decline and many roots.” He took me back, stopped the bikes and pointed out some spectacular trees. He made me look up and I could only do that as I took time to concentrate.

I trust that all of you make it your goal to have a DAILY QUIET TIME and WEEKLY SABBATH, when you are able to switch off from the legitimate demands of life to take time to consider again the wonderful grace of our God. I know that it is not always possible, but it brings its benefits. It was in such a time recently that I read:
Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven,
and he who testifies for me is on high. (Job 16:19)

Job said this going through a horrendous period in his life, having lost all his children and a large proportion of his assets. He had also become victim of some form of extreme skin infection. All of this was compounded by so-called friends who tried to convince him that he had made mistakes in his life and was probably guilty of unconfessed sin. Job did not always defend himself in the right way, but there are times when he declares such an understanding of God that we have to take time to consider and enjoy his insights. The verse above is one such time and I want us to consider its truth for our personal and church encouragement.

Even though Job is suffering horribly he is still convinced of his present undamaged relationship with God, “Even now”. The Christian life and faith is not something that we will inherit in a future eternity, but is a present experience here and now. At the same time it is not simply an earthbound materialistic experience. Job says “my witness is in heaven.” He knew that he did not have to build his own defence, because God was speaking on his behalf. Although Job was not aware of the actual interaction, Job 1 & 2 clearly tell us that God spoke in his defence. He goes on to say “he who testifies for me is on high”. Sadly there are times in life when people have seen what has happened, but they are not prepared to speak up or get involved in order to help the victim.

This is not the case with Christ, He is totally involved. From this one verse it might seem that he is totally aloof, not involved in our lives. The benefit of Christ’s position is that He is above the immediate circumstances and not threatened by the ‘roots’ that hindered my bike ride. Having walked the path before us He is able to say “I understand. It is not easy as you go through it, but be encouraged I have already completed the journey.” At the same time, He is the eternal God who knows the end from the beginning. He has not only read the last chapter of the story, but He wrote it. He is not a cold, isolated legal expert speaking on our behalf, but is totally involved. Paul tells us that our lives are intertwined “… your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col 3:3)

We are going through a very demanding time, but I urge all of us to look up to our witness and Saviour and to do this together so that we might bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ.

In His consistent care and love,

Bernard Lewis Feb. 2018

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Pastor’s Message: January

Dear Friends,

According to Roman mythology the month of January is named after a god who had two faces, one looking forward and one looking backward. I think probably in our contemporary culture that sort of reflection takes place between Christmas and New Year, when people are attempting to wind up the old year and make resolutions for the new year, if not the whole year! How should we as Christians deal with this time of year?

I believe that it is good and right to make time to review and to reflect, but as humans we do not have two faces, therefore we can only look in one direction at a time. As Christians we are not to indulge in morbid reflection or introspection, rather we are to follow the example of Philippians 3:13,14 “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Paul was not going to let any mistake, misunderstanding or shortcomings of earlier life hinder his growth and progress as a Christian. His forward focus was a life in Christ that would eventually climax as a life with Christ in eternity. As Christians we are to deal with the mistakes of the past year and if necessary heal breaches in relationships, but we are to leave the past in the past.

This year as an Annual Text I have chosen Titus 2:11
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people”
Paul makes this wonderful statement after he has encouraged both old and young, men and women within the church to focus their lives so that they would reflect the glorious teaching about Christ that had totally revolutionised their lives. For Paul, the grace of God is not a commodity that is available to God to dispense at will, but the Grace of God is in fact the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who has come from heaven as the only means of God showing His undeserved love to the peoples of this world. Jesus appeared on earth as the means of saving people who rightly deserved the judgement of God.

Jesus Christ is the One through whom God has saved His people and at the same time He is the goal and focus of our living. As Christians we are not to look back to our failures and mistakes, if we have confessed them then they have been given to Christ who has taken full responsibility for them suffering God’s righteous judgement in our place. We are saved and will be saved, therefore we are to live as saved people. We are to live daily, knowing that as we encounter personal failure we have the assurance that we can confess our sin and enjoy the ongoing forgiveness of God.

This however is not simply an experience to be indulged in as private individuals; this salvation is to so motivate our lives that people will see the difference in us and want to know the source of such assurance and joy. It is then that we will have the opportunity of telling them the hope that we have within ourselves which reaches into eternity.

It is my plan to look at the letter of Titus on Sunday mornings as well as Wednesday evenings so that our lives might “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour” (Titus 2:10).

As we begin a new year together may we each leave the regrets of the past with God; rejoice in all our past experiences of grace and set a focus in our lives that will make it our desire to enjoy and glorify God as our chief delight in life.

Yours in God’s undeserved, but extravagant Grace,
Bernard Lewis Jan 2018

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Pastor’s Message: December

Dear Friends,

This is the last edition of the Gazette for 2017. How was the year for you? Was it what you expected? In January did you respond to the leaflet “10 Questions to Ask at the Start of a New Year”? I don’t do that sort of thing as a general practice, but am grateful that I did this year and that I can see where God has been gracious and prayer has been answered.

Perhaps you didn’t use that document, but how are you assessing things as we approach Christmas and the close of the year? I want to use some Biblical examples to help us each assess our response to life’s experiences.

On the day of the Resurrection, two of Christ’s disciples felt let down as they said “…we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (Lk 24:21). Jesus took time to explain to them from the Old Testament all that God had prepared and accomplished in His own life. The crucifixion was not a horrible defeat for God, but the fulfilment of His purposes.

Samuel, in the Old Testament stands in contrast to those disciples, because he is able to say, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” (1 Samuel 7:12) Although God’s people had been through, and were probably still going through very difficult times, Samuel was ready not only to thank God, but also to set up some form of memorial stone. He knew that God is able to use both the difficult as well as the happy or blessed times to work out His purposes.

As we approach Christmas, let me ask, ‘How has 2017 been for you’? Was it painful or was it happy? Was it disappointing or a fulfilment?

However you assess it, it was a year in which God was still in control and working out His purposes. At the end of this month we will again celebrate Christmas and hopefully will be take up with the great facts of the Incarnation – God taking on humanity. Writing in Galatians 4 Paul states “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son,”(v.4) Effectively Paul is saying that when all the necessary events of history were complete God sent His Son into the world. Not one event of history was wasted. The Old Testament shows us a people chosen by God, who on numerous occasions turned away and lived in ungodly ways. At the same time many of God’s chosen leaders made horrible mistakes and had they lived in our current culture would have been dismissed and ridiculed on every form of social media. But the expression ‘the fullness of time’ means that God used each of those people and events to prepare for the coming of His Son. In another letter Paul wrote, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28)

In the same sentence in Galatians he explains that all this was done “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (v.5) To put that in bald terms, it means that God used the mess of human history, including the mistakes of His people in the Old Testament to work out His purposes.

2017 may not have been what you expected or what you wanted, but it has not been wasted. God is still working His purposes out. We will all have our regrets, and where those are a result of our own sin then we must repent and put things right, but we leave one year and prepare for the next singing with the hymn writer, “All the way my Savior leads me; What have I to ask beside?… For I know, whate’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well,”.

Jesus came the first time, came in the fullness of time, and He will do exactly the same when he returns to earth a second time. May He help each of us prepare for and live to His glory in 2018.

Warm Regards,
Bernard Lewis Dec 2017

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Pastor’s Message: November

Dear Friends,

As the world frightened itself in the darkness of Halloween, the Church of Jesus Christ has marked the 500th Anniversary of the ‘start’ of The Reformation. On 31st October 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door of Wittenberg. This sparked a discussion which was to lead many across Europe to a renewed understanding of the Bible Truths that underpin our faith.

In November we, as a church, will mark the 40th anniversary of the opening of our new church building. As you know, last year we marked the starting of the witness that became known as Alma Street Baptist Church. It is good at these times to remind ourselves of what was said by key people at those times. Mr Harrison, in his vote of thanks at the church dedication service, mentioned various people, but most significantly said,
“Above all we would render praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God under whose providential care all this provision has been made. It is our desire to use that which He has entrusted to us for His glory. In an age of uncertainty, confusion and despondency He calls us to make known the unchanging message of the everlasting gospel that is always man’s only hope. His Word, the Bible, is our authority, and its message of salvation for sinners by His grace and through faith in His eternal Son, the Lord Jesus Christ is the message that we shall endeavour to proclaim in and from our new home.”

Similarly Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, preaching from Joshua 4, asked the question “What mean these stones?” This was a popular question with Dr Lloyd-Jones and the subject of his final sermon when he preached at the opening of Barcombe Baptist Chapel in 1980.

I don’t want to regurgitate his sermon, but would like to draw out some principles from this passage. Notice that children form a significant part of Joshua’s teaching. It is they who ask the question in v.21. We should be open to the questions of children, because we have a responsibility to fill their minds with good things. Notice too that the question is addressed to fathers. As parents, particularly fathers, we are to be ready to answer the questions of our children. Our Lord has time for children, even when people thought that they should not bother him. Let us never tire of the great gift of children in our families and in our church.

Joshua was concerned that a rising generation should be able to relate the great works of God on behalf of His people. In verse 23 he refers to both the crossing of the Jordan as well as the earlier crossing of the Red Sea. These events were separated by 40 years, because God’s own redeemed people had not been willing to trust Him to lead them into the Promised Land that He had already prepared for them. As God’s people we must acknowledge that daily God calls us to trust Him and that is not always easy, but faith demands trust.

Joshua however was not only concerned with historical events, but ultimately he was concerned “that
1. all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty,
2. that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” (v.24)

This two-sided vision is good for us to focus on as we celebrate another anniversary. At a time when our God is despised by many in the public arena, it would be good for us to remind them of how God has provided our building and has kept it open these forty years. Not only has he done that, but he has used the members of this church to spread this message to many other countries of the world, through our own missionaries, but also others that we have supported. Also we can tell people of the power of our God in saving many through the work of the church. Even though they may have moved away for work of other reasons yet they still walk with God.

The second side of this vision relates to us as God’s people. We are to live in holy reverence for God all the days of our lives. It is all too easy to emphasise the great teaching of grace, but our god is holy and we too are to be a holy people. As we move into another decade together may we do so conscious that we are to honour Him in all things.

Your grateful pastor,

Bernard Lewis November 2017

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Pastor’s Message: October

Dear Friends,

As I write we are concluding our week of prayer. It has been a special week, when there has been a real liberty as well as burden in prayer. We are about to begin a new phase in our ministry, and our church anniversary in October will mark the completion of another year. It is vital that our ministries continue to be exercised in prayer. As we pray we demonstrate the fact that we can do nothing of eternal value in our own strength.

In the wider world the news is dominated by two events – horrific hurricanes in the Atlantic and the threat of nuclear conflict in Asia. Both of these events make us reel as we consider how insignificant we are in the face of such diverse power. There is however another perspective given for us in Psalm 8:3,4
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

David is addressing the LORD, our God. The heavens and the earth are the work of His hands. We boggle at such vastness, even when science and astronomy try to explain much of it to us, but it has all been made and is maintained by the Word of God’s authority. It is too vast to take it in, particularly when we see such demonstrations of power in earthquakes and hurricanes. Many would want to argue that things are out of control, but we have the assurance that nothing is beyond the sight or control of the LORD, our Lord.

Such power and authority can give us peace, but that peace is magnified when it is applied to us in such an intimate way, God is mindful of us and cares for us. That last line in the Authorised version says that ‘you visit him’.

Let us take time to consider these great commitments by God – he is mindful of us. When children leave home, or friends and family have to move away for various reasons, we miss them terribly at first, but with time we get used to their absence and sadly they can fade out of our concerns. Our God is not like that – this world and every creature in it is part of His creation and therefore He constantly considers our situation. That care is not simply limited to thought but it is worked out in actions.

In the ESV we are told that God cares for us. Again this is not just thought, but it is a conscious commitment to maintain the order of creation: day follows night, season follows season, and the earth continues to spin on its axis. The seasons, coupled with the skills that God has given us, mean that our food and the essentials of life are regularly provided in accord with His promise to supply all of our need.

When we consider the Authorised translation in the fact that God visits us we are reminded of some of the greatest truths of Scripture. The Old Testament gives us numerous examples of where the “Angel of the Lord” (Our Lord Jesus Christ) spoke to a number of individuals as God in Trinity worked out the great work of salvation and redemption. The Gospels declare the greatest visit of God as Jesus, God the Son, added to his eternal godhead by becoming a human being. His visit took in the whole extent of human experience as He moved from the womb to mature manhood and from the cradle to the grave. He understands life here on earth, including living through the teeth of a number of storms. In many ways God’s greatest visitation is in the fact that he lives within the lives of each of His people in the person of the Holy Spirit. His visit to us is as intimate as it can possibly be. We are never alone.

As we enjoy another year of service let us be encouraged by the facts of His Power, His Care and His Presence.

Your grateful Pastor,
Bernard Lewis October 2017

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Pastor’s Message: September

Dear Friends,

September marks the beginning of the school year and we often use it to re-launch the different ministries of our church. As we have done in previous years we have also arranged a week of prayer (2-9 September). While preparing for that I read this sentence by Vaughan Roberts describing the Christian life,
“But, above all, the Christian life is about Christ: being served, known and loved by him and then in response, serving, knowing and loving him.” (Battles Christians Face p.129)

It is wonderful to know that as Christians Christ serves us. He did that primarily when, as God He became a human being and lived here on earth in order that He might die in the place of all of His people. That was not just a random event for all who might want to benefit, but it was for people that Christ knew and knows. This is stated clearly in John 10:27 “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Every Christian has the assurance of knowing that they are known personally by God, but Vaughan Roberts goes on to say that we are loved by Him. Not only are we loved by the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God; but also by God the Father who sent His Son into the world to die for us. It is also true to say that we are loved by the Holy Spirit, because He is the One who has changed our hearts that we might believe the truth of the Gospel. This is the wonder of the Christian message and it is as relevant today as it ever has been. We, each have to respond to this love if we are to be saved by our God.

Many of us reading this know the privilege of being loved by God, but what is our response to that love? Roberts expects that we serve, know and love Him. So as we re-launch our ministries and commit ourselves to prayer let us ask ourselves how much we know, love and serve Him. I have purposely reversed the order, because in reality we cannot truly serve God unless we first know Him. We know Him most clearly in the Bible, because it is in that book that God has chosen to reveal Himself. We so often want to make a god after our own design, but we have to see and understand the picture of God that is given in the Bible.

God first shows us that He is the Creator of this world, but goes on to show that He is the Ruler of this world. He does that by telling us what He requires of us as human beings, but also showing us that there are direct consequences if we choose to live in opposition to His requirements. God however does not want to stand over and against us in judgement rather He has shown Himself most fully as The God of Love, who has paid the price of our sin and continues to make that love known.

Those of us who have experienced that love in the forgiveness of sins and a restoration to an intimate relationship with God are to demonstrate that love in our service for God. Scripture is clear that God has given many gifts to the church and each member of the church has been gifted in different ways, in order that we might support and complement one another.

I trust that as we approach this week of prayer and a new year of service that we would each be willing to ask “Lord, what will you have me to do?”

Let us each commit ourselves to know, love and serve Him more fully.

Your fellow servant,

Bernard Lewis Sept. 2017

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Women’s Bible Study July 2017

We finished this year’s studies with Proverbs 31 looking at ‘The woman who fears the LORD’.

She is described as being ‘far more precious than jewels’ v1 and supportive of her husband who held a prominent position v23 and also her children and household v27,28. She is industrious,prudent and caring-v13,14,15,16.Also she conducts her life in a dignified manner v 25 ,and is wise and kind v26.

Also she attends to the wellbeing of others and is hard working v27.Although  many in society put value on personality and physical attractiveness,these things are transient and respect for God and His laws and teachings are of enduring value and honour Him v 30-‘a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised’.

The passage reminds us of how we are to live our lives in a way which honours God,puts Him first  and cares for others bearing testimony to the LORD.

The next Women’s fellowship meeting is on Monday 4th September at 7.30pm and bible study is on Thursday 21st September at 10.30am.

 

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Article by Jo McMillen

Here is a link to an article written by Jo for Evangelical Magazine:
“Was It Worth It?”

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