It seems that learning the art of vulnerability is now a movement, thanks to people like Brené Brown and her incredible TED Talk, "The Power of Vulnerability." What if we embraced the power of vulnerability in not just our relationships, but also in our prayer lives? That's a concept that I think could transform our entire year, and potentially, our entire lives.

It’s hard to ask other people to pray for you. But asking for prayer is an opportunity to admit that you can’t do it all on your own—that you need Jesus and other people. Paul the apostle set this example for us.

A Biblical Example of Vulnerable Prayer

In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul the apostle offers this short, but telling, remark:

“Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may progress and be honored, just as also it was with you, and that we may be delivered from evil and wicked people, for not all have the faith” (2 Thessalonians 3:1–2 LEB).

After offering his prayers for the Thessalonians (2 Thessalonians 1:3–4, 11–12), Paul asks that the Thessalonians pray for him. Paul’s motive is simple: he desires to proclaim the saving message of Christ. Paul makes himself vulnerable because the gospel going forth requires him to do so.

Paul and his colleagues established the church at Thessalonica (Acts 17:1–9). So the Thessalonian Christians well understood the value of Paul’s words. If Paul was given an opportunity to speak the word of the Lord, amazing things could happen. Paul’s request is rooted in the reality of his struggles—people opposing him because he represents Jesus.

Likewise, the Thessalonian Christians experienced this opposition first hand, when Paul and his colleagues were in Thessalonica. Thus, when Paul asks for prayer in light of the “wicked people,” the Thessalonian Christians understand what he means. Paul is concerned about persecution from those who do not believe in Jesus. Thus, Paul's request has in mind the context of an urgent need. Urgent, vulnerable prayer is required to overcome these difficulties.

Why We Should Embrace Vulnerable Prayer

We need to pray for one another regularly—especially in the context of the gospel going forward. It’s good that we ask for prayer. When we request prayer, we make ourselves vulnerable in front of other Christians. And the vulnerability before other Christians is also an admission of vulnerability before God. Collectively, we are asking for God’s intercession and grace. We are inviting God into our circumstances.

Paul’s context is not so different from that of many Christians around the world. We need to pray for those who are regularly experiencing persecution for the sake of the gospel. We do not need to fear; instead, we must trust that God will see through his work. We must petition him to work on our behalf. We must admit that, as frail people, we need divine help.

Questions to Ask as You Embrace Vulnerable Prayer

Here are some questions you can ask yourself, as you embrace vulnerable prayer in 2020:

  1. What issue in your life do you need prayer for?
  2. Who can you ask to pray for you?
  3. What persecuted church region can you pray for today?
  4. How is God meeting you in the midst of your vulnerability?

Being vulnerable in our prayer lives is transformative. Being vulnerable means bringing our very deepest emotions and needs before God. And in being vulnerable during times of group and partner prayer, we can invite God to speak to us as a community, to intercede in our frail and fragile lives. We can also invite other people to walk alongside us in our deepest needs. Our world needs vulnerable prayer.

 

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*This post is adapted from my earlier article, "Be Vulnerable When Asking for Prayer."

Grace. It is a simple word with profound meaning. Perhaps you need some grace right now. Maybe those resolutions aren't going as you had hoped. Self-grace. Maybe you have a relationship on the rocks. Grace for others. Maybe you're having trouble trusting God. God's grace.

Multiple New Testament books end with God's grace. This is because grace is a form of blessing. God blesses us with grace. We bless others with grace. And we bless our own lives by giving ourselves some grace.

Grace as a Blessing

Paul could have ended 2 Thessalonians in dozens of ways; instead, he focuses on one thing alone: grace. Because grace is the most powerful concept of all.

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:18 LEB).

Often all we need is a little grace. Grace is renewing. It reaches deep inside us. It finds the despair and pain and offers love. It says, “Yes, you may be unworthy but you are loved and forgiven.”

Grace is the Most Powerful Concept of All

Paul devoted much of his writing to the concept of grace. It is the grace of God, as shown through Jesus’ death and resurrection—for our sins, so that we could have relationship with God—that drove Paul’s entire life. Grace is what Paul himself had experienced as a redeemed sinner. It is grace that I have experienced as a redeemed sinner. It is grace that we all need.

Imagine 2020 with Grace

How different would our world be if we all offered people the grace we have received? If instead of holding grudges and demanding apologies, we lived with a spirit of forgiveness? If instead of hoping that people would fall on their sword, we offered grace and love? If instead of being bitter we offered hope? If instead of considering ourselves better than others, we noted the incredible and unmerited redemption we have in Christ?

Imagine what could be if the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is what we proclaimed to everyone. Imagine what could be if grace drove our entire lives and if it’s what we wished for each and every person. Imagine 2020 with grace as a key concept.

Reflect on Grace with These Questions

  1. What parts of your life need to be transformed by grace today?
  2. Who can you show incredible grace to today, in the love of the Lord Jesus Christ?
  3. How can yourself some grace today? Where do you need to give yourself more room for grace?
  4. How can you open yourself up to receive grace?

May God's grace transform your life this year. Grace is a blessing.*

 

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*This post is adapted from my earlier article, "Grace is the Most Powerful Grace of All."

Our lives are often struggles. We search for meaning and have desires. Some of these are self-prompted, others from the divine spark inside. We look to God as a guide, wondering if we will find what we’re looking for. Paul sensed this same struggle and urgency in the Thessalonian Christians and penned words that still resonate today.

“With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith” (2 Thessalonians 1:11 NIV).

Paul could see far beyond his life. He looked into the future and saw a day when Jesus would return—to make all things right and new (2 Thessalonians 1:6–10). He looked beyond his life and held onto something eternal. This changed absolutely everything.

The Perspective Prayer Provides

Paul desired that the Thessalonian Christians would share his perspective. Jesus had called them to something truly extraordinary: to be a beacon of hope in a struggling world. But this hope was not rooted deep in themselves; it wasn’t about finding themselves. It was about finding their calling in Christ Jesus. It was about finding the divine spark of Christ and embracing it.

Jesus is at work in our lives. He is working in us to bring about goodness for this struggling and hurting world. Rather than look at the despair of our world and merely cry, we must look at the pain and ask God to use us for good.

Prayer Shows Us What God is Doing in Us

God is working in us to bring about goodness. He is faithfully prompting us to take action on his behalf.

The eternal perspective of Jesus’ return should prompt us to stop and look around. It should prompt us to ask how we can be people who bring mercy to the hurting. It should prompt us to love. It should prompt us to do good. It should prompt us to ask God to change us, to make us more like him—so that we may love better and more fully. 

Prayer gives us divine perspective. Sometimes that is in a word from God. But more often, we experience in prayer the deep rooted sense that God is present. God is with us. God is working is us, even now, to make us worthy of the calling that he has placed upon our lives. Take that hope with you today. Take that hope to prayer.*


Enjoy this article? Check out my new book, Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change. With simple, everyday choices you can make the world a better place. Learn how to live the currency of love.



*This article is adapted from my previous article, "An Eternal Perspective on Our Prayers."

From the beginning of the early church, there is a concern for the impoverished and for effective alleviation of poverty. Right off the bat, early Christians are pooling their resources for the sake of the marginalized and impoverished. Early Christians sold their stuff so that they could share resources with the hurting (Acts 2:44–45). Self-sacrifice is a core part of the gospel.

Jesus’ Economy is Based on Self-Sacrifice

We have to be willing to sacrifice our own comforts for the sake of the impoverished. I can’t look at the situation in Bihar, India—where millions of people are living in extreme poverty—and deny them clean water or economic opportunities. As a Christian, I should experience a conversion in those moments of witnessing poverty. I should be inspired to give of my time and resources to empower the poor. I should be willing to go so far as to sell my house and my belongings. That’s at least what Jesus told one man (Matthew 19:16–22).

That’s precisely what my wife and I did—we put all of our resources into empowering the impoverished and bringing the gospel to the unreached. We sold our house and our stuff, for the sake of the mission. I’m not saying this to boast, because I can tell you that there is no glory in it. I’m saying this to note that I’m not asking you to do something I haven’t done myself. I’m also not saying everyone’s journey will be so radically life altering, but I do ask, “Are you giving enough that it hurts?” That’s the model of the early church.

Jesus has a different economy in mind than the one on offer in our world. He believes in empowering the impoverished. Jesus’ economy is based on self-sacrifice. Jesus’ currency is love.

Jesus’ Economy Means Giving Joyously and Intelligently

When the earliest Christians gave, it wasn’t about guilt (2 Corinthians 9:6–7). And likewise, their love wasn’t an empty love—one where I give of my resources without thought of relationship. I believe in intelligent love and I believe in love that calls people to a higher standard. I believe in this because the early church did. I also believe in love that respects the value of hard work (compare 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7–8). There is a time for charity, such as meeting a basic need like clean water, but people also need economic opportunities. They need jobs. 

The early church built intelligence in their giving. We see this in the appointment of deacons—following an issue over distribution of charity to widows, one of the most impoverished groups of the day (Acts 6:1–7). Jesus would have us give in ways that multiply and to think about how we’re giving and to whom we’re giving.

This is why I believe in job creation efforts being a core part of the work of the church. We can meet a person’s need today or we can give them the ability to meet their own need tomorrow. But no matter what we do, showing Jesus’ love in word and deed should be our mission. We should live on mission and empower missions, so that all can know Jesus.

Jesus’ Economy Means Living on Mission and Empowering Others

The early church sent missionaries out, but their goal was to train and empower local leadership. Much of 1 Timothy and Titus is about this—the appointment of local elders and deacons. We also see Paul in 1–2 Thessalonians and 1–2 Corinthians working to instruct local leaders on how to lead their own church. Paul’s model was always about raising up indigenous leaders. 

Today, we can do the same. We need to empower local leadership around the world. What we need is to sponsor indigenous church planting movements and to empower them with quality, Bible-focused training. And we need to empower them with strong project management, resources for community development, and let them sit at the center of an effort to renew a community.

Churches around the world should partner together, for the sake of both bringing the gospel to unreached people groups and to meet basic needs. And where there are needs to be met, we should meet them. Near the end of Paul’s letter to the Roman church, he requests that they join him and other churches in bringing together an aid package for the impoverished in Jerusalem (Romans 15:26–29).

As Christians, we need to have a holistic approach to life transformation. We need to be about creating jobs, planting churches, and meeting basic needs—one community at a time.

Imagine what could be if the church functioned this way—if we looked at the biblical model of self-sacrifice and lived with the principles of the early church in mind. Imagine how different our world be. Imagine what would happen if we had a truly Jesus economy in mind at all times.

 

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“I’ll go first” is perhaps the most powerful statement a Christian make. It is the people who go first that I most admire: the innovators, the risk-takers, the pioneers.

It is the people who have made incredible sacrifices for Jesus—who join our Lord, not just in his glory but also in his suffering—that inspire me.

One of these people is Biju Thomas, a pioneering community developer in Northeast India. Biju left “God’s own country”—the nickname of Kerala, the state he is from in Bihar—and moved to Bihar, which is known as the most backward of the backward states in India. This is a reference used in India to states that are no longer supported by the Indian government from an infrastructure standpoint.

In Bihar, I shadowed Biju in one of the least reached regions of the world. Over 101 Million people in Bihar have never heard the name of Jesus. Without Biju, I was an outsider and unwelcome; but with him, everything was different.

When people met me and observed the color of my skin, they would generally dislike me. This is because of the history of colonialism in Bihar—there is a cultural memory that says that white people are bad because they represent oppressive colonialism. But once people found out I was with Biju, they would embrace me. And this is because of one simple reason—the love of Jesus.

Biju and his team are empowering women through business; they are providing clean water; they are offering literacy training; and they are sharing the freedom of Jesus with people who have never heard his name before. And as these people experience Jesus—in a culture where the religious systems have dictated that their life is only worth little—their entire world is changed. Jesus offers freedom and liberty.

The Power of Going First

Biju is the type of person who goes first. He has made incredible sacrifices for the cause of renewing Bihar, India. And that’s why I followed him and am now going first among another group of people. I’m trying to ignite a movement of people who are willing to live self-sacrificially for the sake of bringing the gospel to the last of the unreached and for the sake of alleviating extreme poverty in effective and sustainable ways.

To fund it, I put my money in first. I sold my house. I sold my stuff. That’s what my wife and I did together. Because I could not look at these problems—and continue to sit in my comfortable well paying job—I had to step up and follow God with everything I had. And I knew that I wouldn’t really know faith, or be able to truly call people to it, until I had taken that journey.

This was the method of Saint Paul. In his letter to the church at Thessalonica, he says:

“For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:7–8 ESV).

Paul was bi-vocational—meaning he worked and did ministry. He worked so that he could do ministry. He put his money where his mouth was. He led by example. Paul explains this further in 1 Thessalonians:

“Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you” (1 Thessalonians 2:9 NIV).

Paul’s mission was to spread the gospel and to leave no one with excuse. They believed because they saw how much he sacrificed for it and knew that there could be no other reason for doing so than God himself. Paul joined Jesus not just in his glory but in his suffering. He went first and did so without regret.

God Has a Grand Vision for Our World

God is building a grand vision for our world and we can be part of it. God is calling us to make sacrifices necessary to renew entire communities—physically and spiritually.

The opportunity and resources are there and now we need to do the work. God is calling us to something extraordinary. We could bring the gospel, in its full form—of loving a person in both word and deed—to the ends of the earth in our lifetimes. Imagine if that happened.

Our strategy will take time. It will involve sacrifice. It will involve leading by example. It will involve making decisions for Jesus that are so drastic that people question them. It will involve finding a better way forward to create jobs and churches for the hurting and unreached. But it will be worth it.

 

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Paul could have ended 2 Thessalonians in dozens of ways; instead, he focuses on one thing alone: grace. Because grace is the most powerful concept of all.

Read 2 Thessalonians 3:6–18. Reflect on 2 Thessalonians 3:18:

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you” (LEB).

Often all we need is a little grace. Grace is renewing. It reaches deep inside us. It finds the despair and pain and offers love. It says, “Yes, you may be unworthy but you are loved and forgiven.”

Paul devoted much of his writing to the concept of grace. It is the grace of God, as shown through Jesus’ death and resurrection—for our sins, so that we could have relationship with God—that drove Paul’s entire life. Grace is what Paul himself had experienced as a redeemed sinner. It is grace that I have experienced as a redeemed sinner. It is grace that we all need.

How different would our world be if we all offered people the grace we have received? If instead of holding grudges and demanding apologies, we lived with a spirit of forgiveness? If instead of hoping that people would fall on their sword, we offered grace and love? If instead of being bitter we offered hope? If instead of considering ourselves better than others, we noted the incredible and unmerited redemption we have in Christ?

Imagine what could be if the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is what we proclaimed to everyone. Imagine what could be if grace drove our entire lives and if it’s what we wished for each and every person.

What parts of your life need to be transformed by grace today? Who can you show incredible grace to today, in the love of the Lord Jesus Christ? Drop me a comment, I would love to hear from you.

 

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This Jesus’ Economy Daily Devotional is part of the series, “Live Your Calling Now: 2 Thessalonians.”

Our world is full of noise. It seems that everywhere we look, there are people proposing truth—what they view as right in their eyes. And there are even those propagating fake information under the pretense of truth. Paul the apostle addressed similar concerns in his second letter to Thessalonians.

Read 2 Thessalonians 3:6–18. Reflect on 2 Thessalonians 3:17:

“The greeting is by my hand, Paul’s, which is a sign of genuineness in every letter: this is how I write” (LEB). 

It seems that someone had pretended to be Paul, sending a pseudonymous letter to the church at Thessalonica (see 2 Thessalonians 2:2). Throughout his letters to the Thessalonians, Paul addresses misconceptions and false information. He attempts to bring clarity to theology in the midst of the noise of falsehoods (e.g., 1 Thessalonians 2:13–16; 2 Thessalonians 2:1–4).

Paul ensures that the Thessalonians will recognize his words by offering some sort of sign of genuineness. First-century AD letters were often penned by an amanuensis (a type of scribe or secretary). At this point in the letter, Paul may have physically penned the words himself. The recognition of his personal and unprofessional penmanship near the end of the letter could have been the sign of authenticity he mentions (compare Colossians 4:18). He may have also written some other sign on the paper like a specific drawing or crest; or he could have included a stamp or seal.

Today we must be aware of signs of genuineness versus in-genuineness. We must be cautious and careful. Truth is recognizable. It resonates somewhere deep inside of us as authentic. But it’s also measureable and verifiable.

Truth resonates with God’s Word. It aligns with what’s said in the Bible. Truth also resonates in our hearts. It’s transformational.

Let’s silence the noise for a moment. Let’s look toward genuine truth and embrace it—taking it in, soaking it in, living it. Truth is genuinely lived. Let’s live it.

How can you silence the noise and separate truth from falsehoods? How can you spread transformational truth today? Drop me a comment, I would love to hear from you.

 

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This Jesus’ Economy Daily Devotional is part of the series, “Live Your Calling Now: 2 Thessalonians.”

There are moments in life that seem to lack all peace. Instead, they are only full of pain. How can we find peace in times such as these? Paul the apostle, who was deeply familiar with pain, had some thoughts on that.

Read 2 Thessalonians 3:6–18. Reflect on 2 Thessalonians 3:16. 

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you” (NIV).

The church at Thessalonica had endured incredible pain, as had Paul. From those who didn’t believe in Jesus, they had experienced persecution (2 Thessalonians 1:4; 3:1–2). Thus, Paul does not tritely offer these words about peace.

For Paul, peace was a real and enduring reality in his life, despite the pain. If only such was the case for all of us. Paul achieved this sense of peace from a deep understanding that Jesus would work through all things—no matter how dire they seemed (compare Philippians 4:13; Romans 8:28). Paul believed in a resurrected Lord who could bring resurrected life to even the most painful moments of death and despair.

I remember an intense moment of despair in my life, when I felt like I could no longer see the beauty of the moon or the stars. When I looked up and out, I felt nothing but pain. I questioned everything and was left paralyzed by indecision—despairing. I found my way out by praying through my pain. And when I couldn’t find words to pray, I prayed through the Psalms and the Book of Common Prayer.

And this was Paul’s solution. He went to prayer:

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6 NRSV).

“Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6:18 NRSV).

It wasn’t that Paul didn’t feel pain or experience movements of anxiety or despair. It’s what Paul did with those moments. He prayed. He prayed. He prayed.

What is God asking you to bring to him in prayer today? How can peace in Jesus be your answer to even the most painful of moments? Drop me a comment, I would love to hear from you.

 

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This Jesus’ Economy Daily Devotional is part of the series, “Live Your Calling Now: 2 Thessalonians.”

Community standards are regularly held at institutions, especially Christian universities. What about community standards for our churches? Paul the apostle had some thoughts on this for the church at Thessalonica.

Read 2 Thessalonians 3:6–18. Reflect on 2 Thessalonians 3:14–15:

“Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer” (NIV).

Honor and shame were a major part of Graeco-Roman society. Shame would have been a powerful motivator toward repentance. If a person felt isolated, they would realize what they had lost because of their behavior and likely repent. While this can seem harsh, keep in mind that the Christian community at Thessalonica had little recourse but this option. Also keep in mind the larger context.

The Christians at Thessalonica were experiencing intense persecution, which would have included being socially ostracized (2 Thessalonians 1:4). Thus, they depended on one another. In the midst of this, there were certain people in their community who refused to work while demanding charity from the church (2 Thessalonians 3:6–12). These people would have drained the church’s resources and made their already difficult situation dire. 

It’s also likely that the church regularly ate together and shared many of their resources (compare Acts 2:46; 4:32; 1 Corinthians 11:18–22). Thus, the church at Thessalonica had to consider the entire community. A person who took advantage of the community by abusing charity had to be kept in check.

I wonder if we have lost this level of accountability (compare 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1)? Do we allow for people in our church community to easily disregard standard obligations such as hard work and truly loving the hurting? Do we allow for misguided theology to be used as an excuse in the process (compare 2 Thessalonians 2:1–4)? Are we allowing for people to represent our churches and Jesus who clearly do not represent our values? It seems to me that there is a lot we can learn from Paul’s guidance here.

But what’s critical is that we note Paul’s overall framework: that we love a person to repentance (2 Thessalonians 3:14). Furthermore, he is clear that we should not treat those we are calling to repentance like enemies (2 Thessalonians 3:15). Tough love can be good. But it should be administered with grace and mercy—for the purpose of helping the individual and the community.

How could we lovingly use Paul’s standards in the church today? How could Paul’s framework change the way we approach discipleship? Drop me a comment, I would love to hear from you.

 

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This Jesus’ Economy Daily Devotional is part of the series, “Live Your Calling Now: 2 Thessalonians.”

The old adage, "Work as if you’re working for Jesus” can feel a little empty when the chips are down. It’s painful to consistently work hard—especially when things don’t seem to be going your way. It’s equally hard to be charitable when we no longer feel charitable toward ourselves. Paul the apostle has some encouragement for us.

Read 2 Thessalonians 3:6–18. Reflect on 2 Thessalonians 3:13:

“As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good” (ESV).

Paul has just finished explaining to the church at Thessalonica that they should stick clear of people who demand charity but refuse to work (2 Thessalonians 3:6–10). He has also explained the problems that emerge when people are idle (2 Thessalonians 3:11–12). Now, he tells the Christians at Thessalonica to not grow weary in their efforts to do good. The NIV renders this phrase, “Never tire of doing what is good.” The NRSV reads, “do not be weary in doing what is right.”

But it is tiring, isn’t it? From first-hand experience, as someone who has dedicated his life to the mission of Christ, I can tell you that “doing good” is exhausting. There are days that I’m absolutely spent. This is especially true when I consider all the unresolved tensions in my life. I say this as a word of caution: weariness is part of life, no matter what you’re doing. But there’s a solution. 

But Paul does not seem to grow weary in doing good. Reason: He regularly takes a step back and acknowledges the joy of Christ. We see glimpses of this when he speaks of his thankfulness (2 Thessalonians 1:3). We also see it in phrases like, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 NRSV).

Paul knew that true strength did not reside in his own resolve or endurance. Strength is in Christ. It is Jesus who helps us to not grow weary in doing good. It is Jesus who makes us feel charitable when our personal strength runs out. It is Jesus who encourage us to love self-sacrificially when we feel that we have nothing left to give. It is Jesus who carries the cross and can carry us.

Do you currently feel weary about doing good—is it difficult for you? How can you allow God step into the gaps, helping to strengthen you to go forward? Drop me a comment, I would love to hear from you.

 

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This Jesus’ Economy Daily Devotional is part of the series, “Live Your Calling Now: 2 Thessalonians.”

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