The “Hot-Tempered Man”

angry

I have been reading Sonia Purnell’s biography of Clementine Churchill entitled, “Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill.” It has been a fascinating look at the marriage of one of the most important leaders of the 20th century. She was one of the few people who could stand up to the overpowering personality, opinions, and bluster of Great Britain’s foremost statesman. One sentence in particular caught my eye: “Often it was only Clementine who would point to Winston’s faults; his lack of real empathy with others and tendency to bully meant that he often mistook silent acquiescence for positive support.”  One can get away with bullying in the political realm, and sometimes it can even prove beneficial at some level in the business realm, but one place that it doesn’t belong is in Christ’s Church.

My daily Bible reading today included the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Proverbs which contains the following truth, “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger pacifies contention.” In my thirty plus years of ministry I have seen the “hot-tempered man” leave countless broken people in his wake as he careens through the life of the church. Sometimes he is a pastor; sometimes he is an elder; sometimes he is a deacon; sometimes he is “Joe Church Member;” and sometimes he is not a man at all (the hot-tempered woman creates havoc, also); but whoever he (or she) is, destruction follows him the way the flying dust follows Pigpen in the Charlie Brown comic strip. And, often like Winston Churchill he mistakes “silent acquiescence for positive support.” Many church bullies aren’t even aware of the emotional bruises that they leave on those in which they come in contact.

So my plea, first of all, to church officers: Don’t ever let anger be the driving force in your life. I once knew a pastor who said that he was able to get more work done when he was angry, but I also knew that many of those around him were constantly walking on eggshells, being careful to not trigger one of his infamous outbursts. Secondly, I would ask church members to be prayerfully careful about whom they vote for when church officer elections are held. An angry church member can cause great harm, but an angry church leader can devastate the life of a local church.

And, last of all, as we live out our lives in this fallen world; always remember the guidance that the Apostle Paul gave to the church at Rome:

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)

 

 

 

 

 

“The Morn of Song”

RPC

After several challenging years, the last twelve months being especially challenging because we did not have a pastor, our church (and I use that “our” to denote belonging, not ownership) unanimously has voted to call a pastor. I am truly excited about the future as this man is a Confessional Presbyterian who understands the importance of the ordinary means of grace in the life of the church. Pending approval by our Presbytery, he should be on the field within the next couple of months. I believe he will fit in well with something that I used to write in a letter to those who visited Reformed Presbyterian Church during my almost decade as an Associate Pastor:

RPC is a church that desires to be God-centered in our theology, God-centered and reverent in our worship, and God-centered in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost world.”

As I think back over the last year I am especially grateful to those who kept things going at RPC. I appreciate our Interim Pastor, John Wagner, who has stepped in and preached God’s Word faithfully and showed pastoral care to a hurting flock. I, also, appreciate those who filled the pulpit on Sundays before Pastor John arrived.

I appreciate the work of our ruling elders who had a difficult situation thrust upon them and worked diligently to hold things together, reading and answering numerous emails, phone calls, and questions. These are men who have families and real jobs in the real world, who sacrificially give of themselves to minister to the people of God. They are not perfect men, but they did the best job that they could do as they attempted to lead us through uncharted territory.

I also appreciate the Pastor Search Committee who worked so diligently in finding the right man to lead this congregation to be a Gospel light in a very, very dark world. I pray that the Lord will bless them for the time that they spent away from their families during this past year, meeting, praying, sorting through MDFs, listening to sermons, etc.

And, maybe most of all, I appreciate those faithful members who continued to worship, pray, give, and work uncomplainingly that RPC might continue on during this challenging time. I am sorry that I could not do more during this time because of my demanding family responsibilities, but I can say that even through this difficult season, there is no other place that I would rather be than with my brothers and sisters in Christ at RPC. Over the past year my thoughts have returned again and again to a hymn by Samuel Stone that gave me hope during that troubled time:

Though with a scornful wonder the world see her oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping; their cry goes up: “How long?”
and soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.

“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now…”–Joni Mitchell

clouds

I remember the years when I was a young buck in the pastorate. There were several of us in our local Baptist association who would eat together, laugh together, and would usually end up on the losing end of votes together (because we were the crotchety theological conservatives). One day, one of my young pastor friends commented, “I sure would make a great church member. I would support my pastor wholeheartedly.” None of us actually believed him (because he could be pretty head strong and cranky) but now I have realized that I get the opportunity to do just that.

I have been “honorably retired” (Don’t you love Presbyterian Church in America lingo?) for a year and a half, and I am now on the other side of Hebrews 13:17:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

As I submit to the elders that the Lord has placed over me several things come to mind (this is coming from a Presbyterian polity point of view):

(1) I don’t have all the information (and I don’t need to have it). I remember those years when I, being on the session, was aware of words and actions that had taken place, and I had to keep information to myself to protect “innocent” individuals and even to protect the “guilty” who had repented of their sins. When church members would come to me “fishing” for information from time to time, I would simply have to say that I could not comment.

(2) I need to remember that the elders spend long hours meeting, discussing, and praying about decisions (many of which consist of not what is “right or wrong” but of “what is best for now and for the future”) that could affect the congregation for years to come. I need to appreciate their sacrifice and trust their judgement.

(3) I don’t have to agree with everything they do. There were times when I was on the session when I didn’t agree with every decision that was made, so I don’t see why it should be any different now. I don’t have to get my way all the time (or so my wife says).

(4) When I hear the Word of God preached, it is not for me to say, “Well, I would have handled that text differently.” I need to simply receive the Word of God with joy and humility for I am not always right (my wife tells me that, also).

(5) I need to be faithful to worship with God’s people. We have family challenges at home, so that is not always easy; but even when Dixie and I have to split up, and one go on Sunday morning, and the other go on Sunday evening, it is important for us (and the congregation) that we attend each Lord’s Day for we need to experience the ordinary means of grace. I don’t go in order to “feel good,” I go because I need to (and it is a command of God to not forsake the assembling with our brothers and sisters for worship).

(6) I need to give God’s tithe and my offerings each week for the work of God’s kingdom. If I disagree so strongly with the direction of the church that I am tempted to withhold God’s money, it is time for me to find a congregation where I can give that full financial support.

(7) And, most of all, I need to pray for the elders that God has placed in authority over me. Their task is time consuming and difficult, and they need to know that I am approaching the throne of grace daily on their behalf.

There are many other things that I should do as a member of the Body of Christ, and I should do them all in a way that the elders can watch over me “with joy and not with groaning.” 

Preach the Word! (and love the people)

preach-the-word

Six months ago I quit running every morning because I had gotten tired of my knees and ankles hurting 24 hours a day, seven days a week (they didn’t even stop hurting on the Lord’s Day). So for exercise I began riding a recumbent bicycle in my study. I still get my 30 minutes of cardio a day, and at least I don’t have to run in the heat, the cold, or the dark (during Daylight Savings Time); and, I don’t hurt all the time.

As I listen to my IPod (I am so 1990s) to keep my mind off of my heavy breathing, I look around my study and take in the portraits, photographs, and books. Today while doing that, my eyes fell on my Ordination Certificate. I looked at the date (August, 1981), the church (Morgan Mill Baptist Church), and the names of the ordination council. Names like Adams, Quarles, Nachtigall (Ted, but not Richard; Richard must have been playing hooky), Mayberry, and at the top of the list, Dr. A. J. Quinn. Dr. Quinn preached my ordination sermon, and it consisted of him quoting the first eight verses of 2 Timothy 4 by heart. I could not have been given better advice and direction for the years of ministry that lay before me:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”

Being a pastor is really a somewhat simple task. Preach the Word, and love the people. Yes, there are still difficult issues, troublesome people, long days, and long nights, but if one does those two things he will “fulfill his ministry” in the Lord.

 

 

Every Tribe and Language and People and Nation

every-tribe

We had three young people visit our church this morning from the Netherlands (when I say “young,” I’m guessing mid-twenties). They were visiting Texas and in the next day or two would be flying back to their native land. As we attempted to communicate through their thick Dutch accents and my deep southeast Texas twang, I discovered that they belonged to a free Dutch Reformed denomination, and although I am a “Westminster guy,” we discovered that we all shared a love for the Heidelberg Catechism. Although separated by miles, cultures, countries, years (no one would guess that I am in my mid-twenties and I no longer have to ask for the senior discount, they know), and Confession of Faiths we joined together and sang of Christ’s Gospel, heard His Word preached, and shared the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” It gave the four of us a glimpse of that future day when around God’s throne we will sing to our Lord and Savior, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Rev. 5:9-10)

But today, in time and space we sang Isaac Watt’s beautiful hymn about the love and sacrifice of a holy God for sinners:

Alas! and did my Saviour bleed,
And did my Sovereign die!
Would he devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I!

Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree!
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!

Well might the sun in darkness hide,
And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker, died
For man the creature’s sin.

Thus might I hide my blushing face
While his dear cross appears;
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt mine eyes in tears.

But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe;
Here, Lord, I give myself away,
‘Tis all that I can do.

On Being a Pastor Part 2

sick-pastor

This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.” (1 Timothy 3:1) The word translated “bishop” in this verse is a word in the Book of Acts that describes the church office of “pastor.” In my last post, I shared about some of the challenges that make the life of a pastor a difficult one. I wrote about people problems, task problems, emotional problems, and time problems, and because of this, pastors, whether Baptist or Presbyterian, can often be a rather whiney lot (there is also one Methodist pastor that I shared a funeral with in West Texas who moaned to me about how badly the Bishop was treating him, so my guess is this characteristic cuts across all denominations). All that being said, let me go on record after spending 35 years in the ministry that being a pastor in one of Christ’s churches is one of the greatest blessings that one can experience this side of heaven.

When one is a pastor he gets to make his living reading and studying the Word of God. Hours of every week (if a pastor is worth his salt) is spent in mining the treasures of God’s truth. He has the opportunity to dig into the languages of Scripture, to read the commentaries written by the servants of God of all the ages, and to seek to discover how to best communicate that truth to God’s people. Before a sermon is ever preached to God’s people, the pastor has preached it to himself again and again throughout the week.

When one is a pastor he has the opportunity to spend time planning the corporate worship of God’s people. He has the privilege of reading through many Psalms and hymns to discover which ones will help explain the text of Scripture that he will be preaching on that Sunday. “The Trinity Hymnal,” for example, consists of 742 hymns covering hundreds of years of Christian hymnody filled to the brim with Biblical truth. When one adds in “The Trinity Psalter” he also is blessed by the metrical versions of the Psalms that have spoken to God’s people for generations.

When one is a pastor he has the great privilege of baptizing new believers, and the children of believers, pointing people to the grace of Christ as their only hope in this life and the life to come. He has the privilege of breaking bread in front of the flock of God and speaking on behalf of our Lord, “This is my body which is given for you,” and to hold up the cup and say, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

When one is a pastor he gets to hear people share how Christ has changed their lives as they communicate their profession of faith, and then to hear them express their commitment to Christ as they take their membership vows. He has the privilege quite often to pray with his brothers and sisters in Christ during their times of joy, and sadness, and during their days of youth, and old age.

And, yes, while there are those who make life difficult for the pastor, there are many, many more that are a great blessing to him. To hear from people in the congregation share that they pray for you every day is a great comfort and encouragement during the challenging times. There are those who share materially, emotionally, and spiritually with their pastor to make his life in ministry easier.

A pastor even has some flexibility in his schedule so that even though there are times when he is absent from the his family during the evening, it is possible (as I often mentioned to my son) to make those 5 o’clock games when some fathers are unable to be there because they can’t get off work in time.

When the time came for me to retire (earlier than I had hoped because of family needs) I was saddened because I miss greatly the work that has filled most of my adult life. Oh, I don’t miss long session meetings, or the slings and arrows that often fly in the direction of spiritual leaders, but I do miss the many blessings that accompany ministering to the people of God. For I learned early in my life that “This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.

On Being a Pastor (Part 1)

pastor

 

 

 

 

This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.” (1 Timothy 3:1) The word translated “bishop” in this verse is a word in the Book of Acts that describes the church office of “pastor.” There have been many articles written lately on the Internet describing how tough it is to be a pastor in the 21st century, and there is some truth to be found in that contention. As one who was ordained in August of 1981 and just recently retired, I can speak with some expertise on the subject.

The pastoral life has its challenges. To begin, there are always people (probably in any church one belongs to) that seem to have the “spiritual gift of criticism.” They criticize every decision that the pastor makes and make life truly miserable for him at times. I still remember a story that Dr. A. J. Quinn once told me about his days as an associational missionary when a young pastor pleaded with him to find him another church because of this lady who hounded him constantly as he tried to do his work in that small west Texas town. The good doctor responded by asking him how many in his church were like this woman. The young pastor said, “Only one. Just that Jezebel.” Dr. Quinn told him that he had better stay put because the next place that he serves may “have a church full of them.”

There is also the pressure of the calling. There are often eternal consequences to the things you do (Of course, I realize only God can change a heart, but the pastor “feels” the importance of the tasks he is called to do). He is called upon to open God’s Word week after week to feed Christ’s sheep with spiritual food (That amounts to approximately 150 sermons, Bible studies, etc. every year). Thankfully, God has given 66 books of the Bible full of heavenly truth. However, a diligent pastor will strive (and that is a good word to describe it) to make sure that he “rightly divides the Word of truth” as he explains, illustrates, and applies that Word to God’s people.

A pastor also feels emotional challenges as he ministers. He is there when the doctor comes out of surgery with bad news from the biopsy, he is there when church members and even people in the community die, he is there when husbands and wives are acting like the Hatfields and McCoys, he is there when the teenager is pushing every boundary that he can push, he is there when a child has been abused and seeks to help that child put the pieces of his life back together, and he is there when…well, I think you get the picture. No pastor feels comfortable when these events happen, but you are there to pray, and to be the Lord’s representative, because that is what you are called to do, and that is what those people need at that time. There are those who say you need to put some space between you and the people, but that is impossible when you are “weeping with those who weep.”

A pastor feels the pressure of time. When he is at home, he feels guilty because he is not out ministering to people, and when he is out ministering to people, he feels guilty because he is not home with his family. And, honestly, this is just the tip of the iceberg. As one older pastor once told me when I was a young whippersnapper, “If you can do anything else other than pastor, do it.”

But, wait,” you may say, “you said that the one who desires to be a pastor desires a good thing.” Yes, being a pastor is not just a great responsibility, it is a great blessing. In my next blog post, [Deo Volente] I will speak of the many positive sides of being a pastor.

A Lamp unto our feet and a Light unto our path

heavens declare

 

 

 

Anyone who has ever looked up into the night sky in the country away from Ray Price’s “City Lights,” or gazed across the Gulf of Mexico from the San Luis Hotel at a sunrise on Galveston Island, or looked down into the Grand Canyon, or looked out at the Rocky Mountains from the Alpine Visitor Center outside of Estes Park, Colorado, understands what the Westminster Confession means when it says,

Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.” (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter One, Paragraph One)

The heavens declare the glory of God,” and remind us that our God is a God of power, order, and might, but those same heavens cannot tell us that man is a sinner and falls short of the glory of God, that Christ came and kept God’s Law on our behalf, and that He died as a sacrifice for our sin, so that through resting in Christ alone we could have eternal life. No, it took more than the sky, the ocean, the Grand Canyon, and the beautiful mountains to tell us that; it took God’s Holy Scripture to present that Good News to us.

God, in His written Word, has given us “all things that pertain to life and godliness,” (2 Peter 1:3) to establish and comfort His church. In a world that mocks Christ’s Church, it is tempting to look to the pragmatic schemes of the world to grow the Church, to nourish the Church, and to protect the Church, but we would be much wiser to look to God’s written Word for His plan to shepherd His people. His church is not an organization, business, or group of volunteers; but we are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” (1 Peter 2:8-10)

May God’s church use His Word as “a lamp unto [its] feet and a light unto [its] path” as it lives out its life in a dark and hostile world.

What is the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America?

Westminster Assembly

Several years ago the Iraqis were struggling to put together a new constitution. Jay Leno responded during his monologue by saying, “Why don’t we let them have ours? We don’t use it anymore.” The joke was funny and the people laughed, because there was some truth behind the humor. There were people who were questioning whether our federal Constitution was being followed.

We Presbyterians have a Constitution, also. If I remember correctly I was asked the question, “What is the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America?” at the time of my Presbytery floor exam during my ordination process. I answered dutifully,

The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America, which is subject to and subordinate to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the inerrant Word of God, consists of its doctrinal standards set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith, together with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and the Book of Church Order, comprising the Form of Government, the Rules of Discipline and the Directory for Worship; all as adopted by the Church.”

The brightest minds in England worked for the better part of two years (from August 1646-April 1648) creating the Confession of Faith and the two Catechisms at the Westminster Assembly which spell out in detail what they believed the Scriptures taught, and their work has stood the test of time (as we can see by the very few changes that have ever been made to that document). To this day we pastors take vows affirming that we “sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time [we] find [our]self out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, [we] will on [our] own initiative, make known to [our] Presbytery the change which has taken place in [our] views since the assumption of this ordination vow?” Our ruling elders and deacons take a similar vow promising to report to the session if their doctrinal views ever change.

Just as I would hope that the powers-that-be in our nation would enforce the laws enacted under the Constitution of the United States, I would also pray that the shepherds in our denomination will take seriously the vows that they have taken to shepherd the flock of God according to “the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures.” May the Lord protect the purity and peace of His Church.

Thankless Jobs

garbage

I’ve been thinking lately about the many thankless jobs in the world in which we live. I remember reading about the sanitation workers’ strike in New York City several decades ago (full disclosure, it was 1975). Almost overnight, as the piles of garbage began to grow on the city sidewalks, these people who were usually looked down upon and joked about were suddenly seen as a vital cog in the working of a city. I once thought that the people that drilled and serviced our water well were a pretty rough looking bunch of guys; that is, until the pump quit working, and they suddenly turned into some of the most important people in my life. Years ago, Lydia’s father served (it is appropriate that it is the same word used to describe a prison sentence) on the school board, and I remember the late night phone calls and the constant complaints from people sniping about every decision that was made. But, after being a Presbyterian pastor for the past decade I would like to nominate a new group that would belong on the list of those who serve in an often thankless job: the ruling elder.

I know, I know, I have sometimes joked that teaching elders are paid to be good, but ruling elders are good for… (Well, you know how this sentence ends) But, I must admit, I admire these men greatly because I have seen the long hours they have spent praying, dealing with difficult issues dropped in their laps by others, respecting the privacy of those whose lives they are trying to shepherd, sitting through long and arduous meetings striving to make decisions that will result in the long term health of the church, spending a great amount of time caring for the flock of God, and working to accomplish countless tasks of which the church at large is not even aware, and the list of their duties could go on and on.

And, to make their responsibilities even more demanding, they have “real jobs,” too. As a teaching elder, I was always compensated financially for the many hours I spent caring for the flock of God, but they do it out of a love for God’s people, and a love for God’s church. I came across a blog post from January of 2015 (five months before I retired) which describes my respect and love for those who have been elected by God’s people for this great responsibility. I meant these words when I penned them, and I still feel the same way, one year into my retirement:

When one comes to the end of Paul’s Letter to the Church in Rome we find this interesting collection of greetings that Paul desires to pass along to those in the Imperial city:

3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. 5 Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert1 to Christ in Asia. 6 Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia,1 my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles,2 and they were in Christ before me. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. 11 Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. 12 Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers1 who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. (Romans 16:3-15)

As I left our session meeting last night (if you are not Presbyterian, a church session is the body of elders in a local church) I thought of this passage. The men I had left had spent the last five hours praying, discussing, sharing, and debating issues involved in the shepherding of Reformed Presbyterian Church in Beaumont, Texas. These are men from different walks of life who have been chosen by the people of RPC to “shepherd the flock of God,” and I saw again what wise choices the congregation has made. These are not perfect men, but they are men who have been touched by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and desire as much as possible, to nourish, protect, and care for God’s sheep.

I have ministered with good men before during my 35+ years of ministry, but I must admit that these men are the cream of the crop. Thank you, Lord, for the “gifts” that you have given to our local congregation. These men are like the ones Paul wrote about in Romans: they have “worked hard in the Lord” for His people, and are “beloved.”

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