7 Things to Pray for Right Now

Prayer

In this life, I most often feel like I am not measuring up. Like I have not given enough to the poor, have not kept first things first, I’ve said something I shouldn’t have,  or misused my time. Do you feel that way too?

This leads me to the topic of prayer.  Have I prayed about everything? The answer is a decisive no. I have prayed about many things, but everything is certainly not many things.

Most of the bad choices that I have made, or tend to make regularly, could be prevented with a right attitude which accompanies time spent in prayer.

Praise, confession, and petition are integral to righting my attitude between myself, God, and man.

Below are seven things that you can pray about right now that will refocus our worries, doubts, misappropriated attentions, and energies to God and His will. 

  1. Pray for wisdom.
  2. One home-front need.
  3. One news related story.
  4. One mission, pastor, or person in your church.
  5. One goal or dream.
  6. One friend.
  7. The lost and poor in your community, state, nation, or world.

When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” And Jesus answered them. “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

Matthew 21:20-22, ESV

Today, let’s right our attitude when it begins to stray by taking every little thing to God in prayer. Use this list of seven areas to help you structure your prayer time with God. Also, consider reading through  these three other posts on prayer:

  • To Kneel or to Break (here)
  • Enter Here (here)
  • Of Our Crosses and Christ (here)

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Performance Pressure

Have you ever experienced stage fright even in an off stage moment? Your desire to perform well was overwhelming to the point of paralysis. Instead of giving your best, you fell short of even attempting your goal at all. My son recently had an experience like that.

Our children began ice skating lessons a week ago. I’ll tell you, there is nothing more precious-at least to date-than seeing my daughter and son attempting to skate. They look like little penguins starting to waddle on the ice. The faces they, along with their friends, make during their first attempts on the ice are priceless.

It is amazing to see how the children tackle the challenge of gaining their footing and making ground on new turf. Some of the children flail and zoom as fast as they can from point A to point B, with little care whether they fall while making it across. Form and beauty play no role in their thought processes; rather, let’s do this is the self-talk ringing in their minds.

Then you have the apprehensive ones. The ones (as in the case of my children) who aren’t willing to let go of the teacher for a moment for fear they will fall or fail in their advancement across the ice.  Gracefulness or success is close to the last thing on their mind either; survival from one side of the rink to the other reigns supreme.

With the two beginners attitudes towards learning to skate, I think the focus is on two different planes; group one is motivated by success, group two by fear.

The first week my son attempted everything the teacher asked of him; albeit with fear and apprehension written over his face at least 15 or 20 minutes of the 30 minute class. The second week, my husband came to watch the kids, and our son uncharacteristically started crying and wanted to leave his class and sit with his mommy.  We thought he was scared of the ice and may be too tired or experiencing a sugar crash from his birthday pie and ice cream that I had made him for breakfast. Maybe, we pondered, he was a little nervous having his daddy there to watch him for the first time.

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Later on, we would discover that the later thought was correct. Our son was worried that his attempts wouldn’t be good enough and therefore he stopped trying at all. All he could think about was getting to his mommy who would be waiting with hugs and kisses. In this case, both Ron and I weren’t letting our son off the ice until the class ended. We wanted him to give his best; even if his best meant trying with the aid of the instructor the entire time. For us, and I propose for the Father, our efforts are what matter. The heart that says, I am afraid, but I will face my fears and give my best, that is the heart that God delights in. That is the heart that we as parents delight in seeing our children put into visible action.

Our daughter was tempted to follow her brothers lead and stop and stand on the sidelines, but she dug in and decided to keep trying. In the end she stayed after class for free skate and hugged the wall off and on around the rink 10 times! That is effort that deserves praise. Was she up to speed with other skaters her age who had taken lessons longer, or peers who left the security of the wall earlier than she? No. However, she pushed past her own fears and insecurities and in that found confidence and reward that will push her farther the next time on the ice.

Approaching our car, our son told me-after a little prompting-with head down and shoulders slumped, “I was afraid dad wouldn’t like my skating.” Wow. That he could articulate his feelings was remarkable. More surprising, even though it shouldn’t have been, was the fact that fearing he wouldn’t impress the most important man in his life lead him to quit trying. Ron is an encouraging and patient father beyond any other I have ever met, but our son still wanted to impress his daddy and feared not doing so.

Minutes after I sent Ron a text to let him know of our son’s fears, my phone rang. Ron called to reassure our son that he maintained his father’s favor and pride in him. Our son’s face lit up at simply the call from his dad and kept beaming even after the good news filled his five-year-old ears.

What about you? Is there a new task that you are attempting and the fear of falling short is tempting you to halt trying at all? Are you afraid that somehow you are going to let your Father down? Well, its a good thing that God doesn’t look at the outward appearances, but rather, He looks at our heart. When we give his calling on us our all, He sees the heart and the intentions of our heart beyond simply the success or failure of our feet, and He proudly cheers on His sons and daughters from the sidelines. He doesn’t compare us with our brothers and sisters in Christ, but rather looks simply at us individually and prods us to become more of who He created us to be.

 For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7b)

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Same Song, Second Verse

I grew up in a small Baptist church where hymn books were opened every Sunday morning and evening. When we were first dating, my husband often joked with me saying I knew every hymn by heart. Well, I may know the first and fourth stanzas, but the second and third ones are a little more of a reach.

Over the Christmas break, Ron and I attended my sister and brother-in-law’s church. During the singing of one particular hymn, the second verse caught me by most pleasant surprise. The second verse to How Great Thou Art is probably one of the most skipped verses in all my hymn-singing upbringing.

When through the woods and forest glades I wander

And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,

When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,

And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:

How great thou art! How great thou art!

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:

How great thou art! How great thou art!

~How Great Thou Art, by Carl C. Boberg adapted by Stuart K. Hine

My soul feels most at peace when I am in awe of God’s creation.

I have sat at the base of a waterfall and heard the mighty rushing waters never ceasing. I’ve hiked in some of the most beautiful rock formations in America. I have paddled a kayak in the waters of the gulf and sat in observation of countless sunsets. In each of these settings the thoughts that are provoked are ones of worship of the Lord.

Ron Havasu Falls

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Family Hike

Ukraine Pictures (64)

The last pictured mountain is part of the Carpathian Mountain Range in Ukraine; the same mountains that the writer Carl C. Boberg crossed while penning this famous hymn. Ron and I traveled there in 2006.

Rediscovering this second verse of the beloved hymn, How Great Thou Art, is important to me for two reasons. First, this is a song–in particular a verse–which resonates with the Holy Spirit within me. This reflects the sentiments of many Christ followers; we feel closest to God when we are divulged in creation. Secondly, the memories that this verse provokes remind me of the thoughts I was thinking during each adventure. Some thoughts were pure, peaceful, and filled with worship. Others were full of discontent, complaining, or comparison.

It is clear, even in the most ideal surroundings we have choices to make. On what will we focus? Will we choose contentment? Will we choose to approach the Father with gratitude, or grumbling? Will we look at things as they are and see the good, or will we look at situations as we want them to be and see only what is missing?

By far, the fondest memories for me are those in which my inner worship matched the outer grandeur. I revel in the ones in which my thoughts were pure, prayer was on my spirit’s lips, my worship was vibrant, I was enjoying my companions or my solitude, and my thoughts were set on things above.

Certainly, my more favorable memories were when I was acting in the will of God.

This year, we will sing many of the same verses we have sung in years past. The difference in our singing lies with the heart and mind with which we approach the song. There are lessons to be learned and paths to be traveled. May we worship God in His greatness in the forests, by the brook, and in mountain grandeur.

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What Happens When We Rest?

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“God has to knock me out to make me rest.  That’s how He gets me to slow down.” I’ve had several women say this to me while recovering from sickness.

As women, we often conceive that in order to be our best, we must be constantly about our business, a superwoman. I don’t believe we consciously understand or express this mindset, but, in our subconscious mind, we equate rest–the act of stillness, quietness, a break from usual routines, time away–with guilt and indulgence. After all, we reason, what woman has changed the world because she rested?

Join me at iBelieve today to wrestle with this idea of rest. (click here)

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Inspiration for the New Year

A little inspiration for our new year’s aspirations, paths to be tread, dreams to be dreamed, and travels that await.

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Dear Lord, please give me…

A few friends who understand me and yet remain my friends.

A work to do which has real value, without which the world would feel the poorer…

A mind unafraid to travel, even though the trail be not blazed.

An understanding heart…

A sense of humor.

Time for quiet, silent mediation.

A feeling of the presence of God.

And the patience to wait for the coming of these things, with the wisdom to know them when they come.

~W.R. Hunt

Taken from Treasured Stories of Christmas  by Guideposts

 

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I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,

with thee, O Father, as my harbor,

thee, O Son at my helm,

thee, O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.

~The Valley of Vision

Inspirations for a New Year

Roads go ever on and on,

Over rock and under tree, 

By caves where sun has never shone, 

By streams that never find the sea;

Over snow by winter sown, 

And through the merry flowers of June, 

Over grass and over stone, 

And under mountains in the moon.

Roads Go Ever On and On ~J. R.R. Tolkien

 

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand. ~Proverbs 19:21

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Homeland: Until We’re There

Homeland Part 3

He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

~O’Holy Night

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:14, ESV)

We find find ourselves waking to a world akin to the setting Christ entered into over 2,000 years ago. He came to bring peace and redeem lost mankind; even now, especially now, the Prince of Peace is needed on this earth.

The hopeful message of Christmas is that God became man and sympathizes with our weaknesses, our daily needs, and the temptations that are common to man. He is no stranger to the sting of death, separation from loved ones, betrayal, want, and the disappointment of broken relationships and broken people. Christ knows that rejoicing in darkness is impossible apart from the Light of the world; so He came to deliver the Light–Himself–for all mankind. (See John 1:9-13)

He is the Light that gives birth to the sons and the daughters of God. He is the Light that pierces the darkness with the full knowledge of how the darkness bears weight on all mankind. Jesus drew near to us so that we could draw near to the Father. How are we to press on in the meantime? How do we live until we reach our Homeland?

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  (Hebrews 4:15, ESV)

And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:11-12, ESV)

So, until we reach our Homeland, until we cross the threshold of time and space to Heaven and eternity, Christ sets the example for us to follow. He gives us a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12) to imitate their faith and patience so we may inherit the promises of God–eternal life through Christ Jesus.

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:14-16, ESV)

He knows our needs, and to our weaknesses He is no stranger. Behold our King this Christmas season and before Him lowly bend. God is with us and if He is with us and for us, then none shall stand against us.

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,

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Homeland: Finishing Well

HomelandFinishing Well

Each year as we approach Christmas, it is with the mindset that the new year is only days behind the unwrapping of our brown paper packages tied up with string. We pause amidst the hustle and the bustle of the season and wind down before preparing for New Year’s resolutions. We might make excuses to put off until next year what we can do today. We let the diet go, the dust bunnies settle, the visits to the gym wane. We might even give up on catching up on our daily Bible reading plan thinking we have fallen too far behind.

Today, I want us to think about the importance of finishing well. We have only 15 days left in this year. It would be easy for us to close shop, so to speak, and leave whatever is undone for a to do list in the new year, but we may miss out on the blessing of finishing well. Consider:

Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. ~Ecclesiastes 7:8

In this Homeland series, we are taking to heart the model set by the greats of the faith in Hebrews 11. The cloud of witnesses considered themselves strangers and exiles on earth; speaking in such a way that they made it clear they were seeking a homeland: Heaven. The faith heroes of Hebrews 11 set the example for us to finish well. I believe this means in life in totality and in daily circumstances in general. We do not live faithful lives without first living faithful days.

Abraham was looking forward to the city that has foundations whose designer and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:10) This forward looking approach lead Abraham to make daily decisions to follow God no matter where the yeses led him. Did he blunder and bauble along the way? Most definitely! So will you and I. However, Abraham sets an example for us in that we should faithfully serve and trust God even when His promises seem slow in fulfillment or outside the time parameters that we would have chosen.

Who has God asked you to reach out to this year? What has He asked of you that you are tempted to put off until the New Year? What yes do we need to say in the last days of 2014 so that the first days of 2015 our feet are pointed in the right direction to pursue Christ and journey to our Homeland?

…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV)

Looking to finish well,

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Homeland: Evidence of Things Unseen

Homeland 2

Sometimes we are called to step out in faith into uncharted territory–into places or platforms that are novel and, most likely, nerve-wracking. Often we go with faith in God’s calling. Occasionally, with great evidence of His will; while other moments come with more subtle assurance in the still, small voice of God guiding us.

The shepherds were overwhelmed with immediate, miraculous indications that they had a short journey to make and an ultimate treasure to find. The wise men followed the star without the certainty of visible angels guiding their steps. How did the wise men know to look for and follow the star? Why would they pack up and leave their home in search of a King? 

The wise men were Magi, or Magio in the Greek. This is where the English word, magic, is derived from. The Magi were men of great knowledge and study, particularly in the field of astronomy. The Magi originated in Media and later Babylonia, Persia, Arabia, and India. They were considered a priestly caste of advisers to the nobles and rulers of those lands.

According to this article from the Institute for Creation Research (ICR, see here), there is an ancient tradition that Balaam, the prophet from Mesopotamia was an early member of the Magi. Perhaps you are most familiar with Balaam as the prophet reprimanded and spared by a talking donkey. (See Numbers 22:22-30) Well, Balaam also prophesied the coming Messiah would be accompanied in this way:

 a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel. (Numbers 24:17)

Add to Balaam, the influence of Daniel, Mordecai, and Esther, to name a few, in the provinces of Babylonia and Persia and you have both Jews and Magi who took as their own, the God of the Jews, looking for a coming Messiah as foretold by His star rising in the sky.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1, KJV)

The Magi set out to find the Christ-child with as much evidence as the shepherds who heard the angels singing. They studied the patterns of the stars spoken into being. Their study and understanding of astronomy pointed them to the newborn-king when, as foretold, His star arose in the heavens. The evidence of things hoped for was at last present and the Magi were prepared to recognize the evidence and obey.

How are we preparing for our homeland of Heaven this season of our lives?

In what way are we prepared to see the evidence of Jesus and His return and react in obedience as disciple-makers?

How are we prepared to defend the evidence of the Creator God in a world full of agnostic and atheistic teachings heralded as the truth of intellectually inclined individuals?

The Magi who celebrated the Messiah were acting on the evidence of their faith. Indeed, they were acting in faith with the understanding of the stars in the sky. Those same stars which God had promised Abraham that his decedents would be more numerous than. The same starry sky that continues to proclaim evidence of a Creator.

By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Hebrews 11:3, ESV)

The shepherds went in search of the King on the testimony of angels; the wise men on the fulfillment of prophecy. For us there is both. We must press on to live for the Homeland and point others to the King.

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Homeland: A Christmas Series

Homeland Part 1

When I was young in the mountains, I never wanted to go to the ocean, and I never wanted to go to the desert. I never wanted to go anywhere else in the world, for I was in the mountains. And that was always enough. (Cynthia Rylant, When I Was Young in the Mountains)

I have spoken to several men and women whom desire to live in a different place than where they are. Admittedly, several times in a given week or month, I am one of them. I often love the place I live and other moments I desire a grand adventure far, far away. This phenomena has prompted me to contemplate whether this is a perspective shared by historical accounts of men and women documented in the Bible. So far my search has turned up empty.

I believe the desire for novelty and adventure are good, and God-given, but I also wrestle with the reality that it can be a sign of ingratitude, discontent, and a blinding of my eyes to the mission God has given in the present, to the gifts of here and now. This Christmas God has guided my thoughts on the matter to the account of the shepherds and the wise men.

There are two groups of men that were called to worship and witness the Christ-child: the shepherds and the wise men. The shepherds traveled walking distance to witness the new born King of Kings. These men, by vocation, were homebodies often sleeping among the sheep they guarded and never going far from their flock.

And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  (Luke 2:17-18, ESV)

Conversely, the wise men traveled up to two years to witness the Messiah. Their journey started when they saw the star rise and set out to worship him.

When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasure, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:10-11, ESV)

In considering the missions of both these two vastly different groups of men, a few similarities stand out:

  • Their mission was to find the Christ and worship Him.
  • They were given a sign to know that they had found the Messiah.
  • They obeyed their assignment.
  • Their response was worship and joy.

Whether shepherd or wise man, pauper or prince, native or foreigner, those that are in Christ Jesus are each traveling to the same homeland. They are each integral parts to the story of the world, redemption, and the promised restoration of God’s creation. We each work in our areas of influence so that it too can be said of us as the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11:

For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:14-16, ESV, emphasis mine)

Shepherds heeded the heralding angels and the wise men followed the star; we are all called to follow the King. Each of us as part of the story should look to our homeland and work toward that same end. Let us find something in our surroundings today to be grateful for and to recognize the hand of God in our adventures near or far.

Have you encountered any men or women in the Bible who desired a grand adventure away from the place they were living? I would love to hear your answers if so. You can leave a comment below or e-mail me at Brooke.Cooney.1@gmail.com.

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Mary Christmas: A Closer Look at the Mother of Christ

Mary Christmas

Mary.  Some exalt her to an equal status of holiness with the Christ-child she carried in her womb, and others nearly ignore her in an effort to compensate for the idolization of her.

What does the Bible say about Mary and how is this important to our celebration of Christ’s birth this year and every year?

The Bible says that Mary found favor with God. (Luke 1:28, 30)

In considering the Biblical accounts of men and women who obtained the favor of the Lord, the following stand out: Noah, David, Job, and Mary.

How does the righteous and holy standing of Mary before God compare with other Hebrew people recorded in the Old Testament?

Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God (Genesis 6:9, 7:1).  Yet, Noah’s righteousness did not mean that he did not sin because we see that just shortly after he left the ark he sinned by becoming drunk (Genesis 9:20-21, Ephesians 5:18).  David, was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), and yet we can all point to the fact that David sinned in his adulteress sexual relations with Bathsheba, and then subsequently having her husband killed. Job, in Job 1:1 is characterized as a man blameless and upright, who feared God and shunned evil. Yet, Job, when he had  seen God, said, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:5-6)

Our first encounter with Mary is similar in that the angel Gabriel declares, Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.  Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  (Luke 1: 28, 30) Based on the accounts of Noah, David, and Job, we can conclude that finding favor with God does not equal a sinless state.  (Romans 3:23) Further,we gain hope and encouragement that finding favor with God is possible for us as it was possible for Noah, David, Job, and Mary before us.

Let us rejoice in the fact that though we are wretched sinners God characterizes us as ones who gain His favor because of our faith in the Messiah and obedience to His commands.  For Noah, David, and Job it was God’s promised Messiah to come. For Mary and for us it is in belief in the Messiah that has come.

The Bible says that Mary believed God and was His faithful servant. (Luke 1:38, 45)

 My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me- holy is his name.” – Luke 1:46-49

Mary praised God for the honor of being the chosen vessel to birth the Messiah who would fulfill prophecy and redemption for all mankind.  We can glean an attitude of humility from Mary that God would choose to use us to accomplish His divine purpose and eternal plan.

Following the shepherds’ visit and Jesus’ staying behind in the temple, the Bible says that Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19, 51) Mary, unlike us, wasn’t privy to cameras and recorders to capture all the special moments and firsts of Christ.  She had to record her beloved Savior’s face and firsts on the imprints of her heart and mind.  More than this, Mary pondered the ways and works of God.

In our hustle and bustle of the holiday season, and all of the year, we can neglect meditation on the words and works of God.  Mary sets another example of God-honoring living by thinking on Christ.

The Bible leaves Mary at the foot of the cross. (John 19:25-27) That is where we should leave Mary.  Not as an exalted figure by which we can speak to God, not as a iconic statue to be praised and worshiped, nor as a fashion accessory or good luck charm, but rather as Christ-servant and fellow sinner in need of the Savior. This is where everyone is found in relation to Christ–the foot of the cross.

In looking at Mary this Christmas, I will see her as:

  • A young woman who lived in such a way to please God that she gained His favor to be a chosen vessel for accomplishing God’s divine and eternal will.
  • One who believed God and served him faithfully.
  • One who pondered the ways of God and Christ.
  • One blessed to know Christ in infancy, life, death, and his glorified and resurrected state in heaven.

In response to the life of this godly woman I will:

  1. Like Mary, ponder God’s gift of Jesus and his way in which He accomplished Christ’s birth. See Luke 1 and 2.
  2. Put Mary in proper perspective this Christmas and praise the Creator not the created one.
  3. Walk humbly with God so at the right time God will see fit to use me…not all my life, but today and then the same tomorrow and the same tomorrow.

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