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Abraham Lincoln, Overcomer: Why Our 16th President Would Have Worn Nikes

Abraham Lincoln, Overcomer
Lincoln, at age 48. “The picture…is, I think, a very true one; though my wife, and many other do not.” Lincoln wrote. “My impression is that their objection arises from the disordered condition of the hair.” (Lincoln: A Photobiography, p. 40, R. Freedman)

On this day, 210 years ago, an overcomer was born. And, for the record, to be an overcomer, you’ve got to overcome. There’s no easier way.

Abraham Lincoln overcame.

By these three character traits our 16th President became more than a conqueror and overcame. It was not despite, but because of the constant barrage of criticism, confusion, and conflict that he did.

There are plenty more, but here are three traits that reveal how Lincoln overcame:

  1. Patience- Exhibit A: How he persevered and embraced marriage to a very trying Mary Todd Lincoln.
  2. Kindness- Exhibit B: How he looked hard for any excuse to pardon a deserter named Henry M. Luckett. 
  3. Humility- Exhibit C: How he wrote a letter admitting I was wrong, you were right to General U.S. Grant.

Patience, kindness and humility served Lincoln- and our united nation- well. Since I’ve already written about them, I thought I might forgo the Lincoln post this year.

Then I heard what Stanton said.

Gorilla Warfare

Edwin, “Mars,” Stanton was President Lincoln’s Secretary of War. Stanton was a sharp, biting critic of Lincoln early in the war.

He called Lincoln a “gorilla.”

Yes. He did.

Stanton publicly declared that it was foolish to go to Africa in search of a gorilla when “the original gorilla” could be found in Springfield, Illinois! Then, six months before he was appointed to the Lincoln’s Cabinet, Stanton wrote former President Buchanan:

“The dreadful disaster of Sunday [Battle of Bull Run] can scarcely be mentioned. The imbecility of this administration has culminated in that catastrophe, and irretrievable misfortune and national disgrace are to be added to the ruin of all peaceful pursuits and national bankruptcy as the result of Lincoln’s ‘running the machine’ for five months.”

Scathing words, those.

But somehow Stanton transformed into a strong supporter of the President.

If Stanton Said I Was…

But Lincoln took this “gorilla warfare” all in stride, and, because he felt that Stanton was the most qualified for the office, and in 1862 appointed him Secretary of War.

This proves that overcomers aren’t enslaved by what others say about them and that they’re not above correction. Overcomers look long and hard for the kernel of truth in the criticism, even if it’s stuck on a cob of misunderstanding or lies. And once they find it, they don’t let pride prevent them from changing course and turning.

I just read about a little incident that perfectly, if crassly, reveals that part of overcoming. It also involves Stanton.

This exchange came after some “Western men,” led by Congressman Lovejoy, procured an order from Lincoln to switch out their soldiers for easter soldiers.

When Lovejoy explained the plan to Secretary of War Stanton, it was rejected.

‘But we have the President’s order sir,’ said Lovejoy.
‘Did Lincoln give you an order of that kind?’ said Stanton.
‘He did, sir.’
‘Then he is a d—d fool,’ said the irate Secretary.
“Do you mean to say the President is a d—d fool?’ asked Lovejoy, in amazement.
‘Yes, sir, if he gave you such an order as that.’
The bewildered Congressman from Illinois betook himself at once to the President, and related the result of his conference.
‘Did Stanton say I was a d–d fool?’ Asked Lincoln at the close of the recital.
‘He did, sir; and repeated it.’
After a moment’s pause, and looking up, the President said:
‘If Stanton said I was a d–d fool, then I must be one, for he is nearly always right, and generally says what he means. I will step over and see him.’

And so our meek President did not retaliate. Instead he deferred to the same one who called his administration imbecilic and himself a gorilla.

Not Overcome By Evil 

Lincoln’s response to Lovejoy reminds me of 18th-century, British preacher George Whitefield. In response to a vicious, accusatory letter to him, Whitefield wrote,

I thank you heartily for your letter. As for what you and my other enemies are saying against me, I know worse things about myself than you will ever say about me.

With love in Christ,

George Whitefield

Lincoln could have penned those words just as well as Whitefield. It was Lincoln’s meekness and restraint in returning good for evil that proved too great a weapon for Stanton.

Do I not destroy my enemies, Lincoln asked, when I make them my friends?

Lincoln Would Have Worn Nikes

Had they been invented a hundred years earlier, he’d have worn them. Not because he was 6’4″ and headed for the court, but because Lincoln was an overcomer.

Turns out the Greek word translated “overcomer” is from the word nikao (níke) and it means to get the victory, overcome, conquer or subdue. Overcomers wear Nikes.

And they don’t return evil for evil. Any fool can do that. But to return good for evil is supernatural. Overcomers aren’t enslaved by others’ evil. They don’t take revenge. They have One Lord and Master and are, “disciples of him, who died for his enemies.”

George Washington Carver once said, “I will never let another man ruin my life by making me hate him.” Empowered by the Spirit, Carver would not allow evil to conquer him. Instead he lived out Romans 12:21, Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

John Piper fleshes this out for us,

In the context, coming right after saying be good to your enemy, I think he means “Don’t let your enemy’s hostility produce hostility in you. But let your love triumph over his hostility.” Don’t be overcome by evil means, Don’t be overcome by his evil…

Don’t let another person’s evil provoke you to evil thoughts or evil attitudes or evil deeds. Don’t give them that kind of power. You don’t have to. Christ is your king. Christ is your leader, your champion, your treasure. Christ governs your life, not those who do evil.

Lincoln was not overcome by evil. He didn’t let the evil of his enemies control him. He returned good for evil and that makes friends of enemies.

Stanton was overcome by Lincoln’s good.

The Most Perfect Ruler Of Men

In fact, Stanton tried to keep Lincoln from going to the theater that fateful night by ordering one of his subordinates, Major Thomas Eckert, not to accompany the Lincolns.

It was Stanton who organized the response to Lincoln’s assassination, the pursuit of John Wilkes Booth, and the prosecution of the assassination conspiracists. It was Stanton who wept bitter tears beside the bed as Lincoln breathed his last.

And it was Stanton who, according to eyewitnesses, announced: “There lies the most perfect ruler of men the world has ever seen. Now he belongs to the ages.

Lincoln’s secretary John Hay wrote this in a letter to Stanton shortly after Lincoln’s death.  “Not everyone knows, as I do, how close you stood to our lost leader, how he loved you and trusted you, and how vain were all efforts to shake that trust and confidence, not lightly given and never withdrawn.”

And as Lincoln to Stanton, even more our Lord Jesus to us.

His love for us will never be withdrawn. Through faith in Him we overcome.

Everyone born of God overcomes the world.

This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.

1 John 5:4

 

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Where Intelligence Is Irrelevant

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your good pleasure.”  
Luke 10:21

I worshiped at an inner city, self-described “diverse, multi-ethnic church” the other week. I loved every second of it- of the different accents and rhythms and styles and shades.  Which bodes well, since worship times will get even more diverse.

The heavenly worship set will come from a multitude from every tribe, tongue and nation. Every. So bring on diversity.

Including the little girl with Down Syndrome who faced straight right, but sang front center in the children’s choir.

Big On Diversity

We’re big on diversity as we ought to be. But it’s even bigger to God.

I mean, he wants- he will have– a cross section to compose his Son’s Bride, the church. Male and female, Greek and Jew, slave and free- there is no difference. All are one in Christ (Galatians 3:28). Gender, religious affiliation, and employment status are no barriers to God. His call goes out.

But variety in the God’s Kingdom doesn’t end with those. Church diversity goes beyond sex, age and skin color. For now, at least. it extends even to IQ.

To the end that God has actually hidden his glory from some high IQ’d and worldly wise and revealed it to children. To babes. The Greek in Luke 10:21 is nēpios which, I read, means nursing babies.

Dependent, helpless babies. Little children.

IQ Won’t Bring You To God

This means that, at least when it comes to getting into the Kingdom of God, intelligence is overrated.

Rather than being a prerequisite to knowing God, high IQ might even be a barrier, or  handicap, in coming to Christ. Luke 10:21 (and Matthew 11:25-26 and 1 Cor. 1:26-31) means that no education, worldly wisdom or IQ can bring us to God.

And this truth pleased Jesus the Son because this pleased God the Father. It means that all the glory for our salvation goes to God.  Not a smidge goes to our intelligence. Nobody gets into the kingdom of heaven by reasoning and deducting and inferring his way in.

Little children know they can’t make it alone. Everybody in God’s family knows that they’re needy and helpless.

It’s like those lines from Rock of Ages,

Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace…

And Jesus rejoiced in this and said, I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your good pleasure.

No Matter If You’re Not Clever

Maybe this verse grabbed me so hard last week because I’ve been part of a few conversations lately about wits. About friends who feel pressure to keep up the smart front and match wits with the wise the feeling of inferiority that comes when we compare and feel not as smart.

But the most important wisdom in the world- the only saving knowledge in the wide world- does not come with being clever.

In a sermon on Luke 10:21, C.H. Spurgeon explains how this works:

One poor soul says, “I am not clever. I cannot be saved.” Why not? Why not, when God has chosen the foolish things of this world? I often hear a person say, “But I have not head enough for these things.” You do not need a head so much as you need a heart, for the grace of God works on the heart, first, and on the head, afterwards…If you love Christ and trust in Him, you have all the head that you need for eternal life.

“O,” says one, “but I am a person of such small capacity!” Never mind. “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners” whether they are of large capacity or small capacity. Have you a teachable spirit? Are you willing to believe what the Holy Spirit reveals? To sit at Jesus’ feet and learn of Him? Are you like the babe that…takes, unquestioningly, the nourishment she gives? If that is so, you are of the kind that God has chosen! Come at once to Him.

So what causes Jesus to rejoice greatly? At least in part, it was knowing that when it comes to knowing God, intelligence is irrelevant.

It was pleasing to you, Father, to hide these things from the wise. 

Intelligence Is Irrelevant

This doesn’t mean that thinking clearly and being wise is not important. It is. We are to love the Lord with all our minds. But, as John MacArthur explains,

It’s just that those on their own can’t get there.  A man may be as wise as Solomon. That’s not going to get him to God.  He may be as intelligent as Einstein. That’s not going to get him to God.  Intelligence is neither a way nor a barrier, it’s irrelevant.  Human wisdom is not a way or a barrier, it’s irrelevant.

You can’t know me, unless I reveal something of myself to you and you can’t know God unless he reveals himself to you (Luke 10:22). And thankfully,  he doesn’t reveal himself to us on the basis of our IQ. By wisdom, Paul wrote, the world knew not God.

The natural man does not understand the things of God. God has to open our eyes. He has to reveal himself. And we have to become like children to see. We don’t need high ACT scores or college degrees.

God has favor on those who are broken and contrite and tremble at his word. Revealing himself to these is his good pleasure.

In the Wisdom of God

I’m back in my little church now. And if you measure by variety in accents and skin tones, we’re not terribly diverse. But in other ways, we are.

A little sister in Christ who happens to have autism, worships in the aisle, criss-cross applesauce style. An older brother who loves to tell big-grinned one-liners about Smiles that go on for miles and Normal is just a setting on your dryer listens to the sermon. A middle-aged sister who has a hard time remembering things belts it out with her hands held high.

Here we all are, weak and foolish, not many of noble birth (1 Cor. 1: 26-31), high school drop-outs and college grads. I wouldn’t doubt the IQ spread here would span from 50-150, from profoundly behind to MENSA qualified.

And we’re all one in Christ. We’re united because it pleased God to reveal His Son to us and save us. IQ is irrelevant here.

And that is all wisdom.

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe…God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
1 Corinthians 1:21, 28-29
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My New Shirt

I’ve got a shirt story. It’s nothing like my other clothing posts.

It’s not about how l’il Abigail preferred to play farmer girl over princess and how it still feels more fake than fun to dress up up all fancy like. It’s not bittersweet like the day I gave the dress away or a smug take on my husband’s none too GQ sense of style .

The Find

Then last Thursday, I landed at Goodwill on the hunt for polos and khakis for sprouting up boys. It didn’t take long to find those. Which left time me some time in the ladies’ tips. So I rifled through the color lines. Through purple, cream, black, blue and green- and came up dry. 

But then I saw it. Across a crowded aisle, on a rack jammed with a hundred styles, one alone caught my eye. It was a peachy-pink floral print with undertones of goldenrod and hints of forest green, with the delicate cut neckline and flouncy cap sleeves.

Not quite princess, I thought, but still feminine and pretty and casual enough to wear with my jean capris. 

The Fineprint

And so I did. I wore it to work the very next day- my new floral shirt with the just right neckline and the flouncy cap sleeves. And, wouldn’t you know, my new shirt garnered some praise. So I donned it again for church that Sunday.

I like your top, Hon, Jim said at breakfast. I smiled, demure. And that pretty little shirt got more shout-outs at church. I don’t think I owned a more fetching garment than that frilly floral find acquired from the pink shirt rack for just $1.99.

Then I washed my new shirt Sunday night. I paused before tossing it into the dryer long enough to locate the special shirt’s brand name: Gilligan and O’Malley.  

But there was another word too, in fine print on the far side of the tag. What was it? I scrunched up my eyes to read it:

Sleepwear

Yes. It was. My fine new shirt was a Target brand pajama top. And I’d felt so smart at work and at church in that pretty pink shirt.

Soon my face matched my shirt and I laughed and laughed.  And I shook my head and I laughed.

The Finale

That could- maybe should- be the end. But I’m an inveterate meaning  seeker; I’m ever on the hunt for a moral to the story and lesson in the mess. 

So what do you think of these three? 

  1. Laughter is good medicine. It just is. Replaying my days in the delicate floral garment and the unwitting compliments on it was just what the doctor ordered in the midst of some extra stressful days. It was exactly the “don’t take yourself so seriously” tonic I needed.  “A joyful heart is good for the soul,” (Psalm 17:22). It just is.
  2. Associations matter. I bought my flouncy, cap sleeved, pretty floral top because it was hanging with the real shirt, on the pink shirt rack. I wasn’t shopping for jammies. But associations are powerful.  “He who walks with wise will be wise,” (Proverbs 13:20a). And so  my PJ  top was sanctified.
  3. Never say never.  Poetic justice. You see, I’m the Grinch on every school spirit “PJ Day.”  I don’t participate.  And if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it ten times:  I never wear PJ’s out of bed. Never. Wearing pajamas during the day makes me feel lazy. I like to get up and go and I don’t like to feel lazy. No PJ’s in the day. Truly, “with God all things are possible,” (Matthew 19:25). His ways are higher.

Oh, yeah- and a fourth.

Read the fine print.

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Duty Is Not A Dirty Word (But Deserve Might Be)

An Undeserved Dinner Out
Enjoying an undeserved dinner out tonight, the caption under the smiling couple in the bright booth read.
Correction: Deserved, a friend’s comment said.

It was a sweet comment with kind intent. Completely innocent.

But it still made me wince.

Why Deserve is a Dirty Word for Me

Because if I’ve learned anything on my own clumsy quest to keep a thankful heart, it’s this:

Banish I deserve. Replace with My pleasure to serve.  Or with that line from Luke 17I’ve only done my duty. 

Because I’ve learned that whenever I start to think I deserve- whether praise or a shout-out or a dinner out-I’m heading right for Discontent Falls. Whenever I start thinking relaxation or reward is my right or appreciation or applause is my due, I’m setting myself up for an ugly spill.

Because deserve means worthy and earned, and flies in the face of unmerited favor. Deserve, therefore, cannot coexist with grace. And God’s servants stand in grace.

Because as a servant of Christ, I’m called to be a servant of all. Which means that I’ve got to train myself to replace “Applause Please” with, Just doing my duty. 

Because I deserve breeds ingratitude and God’s Word says ingratitude is a sin (Romans 1:21, 2 Timothy 3:2).

That’s why I wince at deserve.

Owned, Not Owed

Being a Christian means we are owned by God, not owed by God. We have been purchased by the blood of Christ, redeemed from sin at very high price.

No matter how long we’ve been at these works of faith and labors of love. Or how many dinners we’ve served and dishes we’ve washed or how many times we’ve forgiven when we’ve been hurt.

No matter how many years we’ve written the checks or worked the nursery or taught Jr. High Sunday School.

Because all that’s our job- all a day’s work. Because we are owned not owed.  We’ve only done our duty. 

When Pride Rears Its Ugly Head

But the flesh isn’t totally dead. If it doesn’t get us with self-pity when we don’t get the praise we crave, it might snare us with boastful pride.

It can happen like this: You start feel like God is using you, and it feels good, so then you start  to think, “You know, I’m doing okay living for Jesus. There’s some fruit.  I’m helping folks know Christ.  My life is sort of in order, I’m growing in self-control and getting more patient and kind and… Aren’t you impressed, God?”

That may have been happening with the apostles in Luke 17.

So Jesus told them a little story.

We’ve Only Done Our Duty

The parable, found in Luke 17:7-10 takes aim straight at my I-deserve, entitled heart.

“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Did you catch the three questions? Jesus meant them to be obvious- no-brainers.

  1. v. 7- Would the master treat the servant like an honored guest, and invite him to sit down to dinner? (No.)
  2. v. 8- Would the master expect the servant to do what servants are supposed to do? (Yes.)
  3. v. 9- Would the master thank the sermon for doing what he was told to do? (No.)

Easy, right? Because most of us don’t have any problem pretending we’re the master.

But, then, verse 10 hits us like a cold shower: So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Defining Duty

Duty is defined as a moral or legal obligation; conduct due. It’s what’s expected of our station.

It’s why we’re not applauded for paying our bills. WeEnergies and Kohl’s don’t throw a party for me when I pay my bills. My boss doesn’t throw a party when I meet my deadlines at work.

Nor should they. I’ve only done my duty.

There’s no fanfare, applause, or medals. But there are a couple big perks for servants.

Servant Perk #1

The Greek word for servant in the Luke 17 story is doulos. 

John MacArthur explains,

doulos was bound to a master and cared for, kept in the home like a family member. He had stability and work to do  there. This is doulos, a bond slave, which meant he was basically attached to the owner, lived in his house, was cared for, provided for… It was a wonderful thing when it was handled well.

By contrast, day laborers would have to hope someone would show up and hire him each new day. No long-term work meant no security and no stability.

So that’s servant perk #1: Servants have steady work and provision.

The second servant benefit is even better.

Servant Perk #2

Servant Perk #2: A servant is close to the action of his master.

In John 2,  when Jesus turned the water into wine, the host didn’t know where the wine had come from. But the servants who had drawn the water knew. They were close to the Master had done the miracle.

Darrel Cook says, In Christian service, when we’re up close to the Master, when we’re right out there where the action is, when he chooses to do something for his name’s sake-we’ll get to see what He’s doing for his glory.

It’s counterintuitive to think that we’ll see God’s glory when we are just doing our duty. But it’s how He designed it.

Oswald Chambers explains,

We look for visions from heaven, for earthquakes and thunders of God’s power… and we never dream that all the time God is in the commonplace things and people around us. If we will do the duty that lies nearest, we shall see Him. One of the most amazing revelations of God comes when we learn that it is in the commonplace things that the Deity of Jesus Christ is realized.

If we will do the duty that lies nearest- the dishes, the youth group, the forgiving, the patience and kindness- we shall see God.

Blessed are the [dutiful, undeserving] pure in heart for they will see God.

Do You Have A Servant’s Heart?

How can you tell if you’ve got a servant’s heart? If this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus?

I like the answer Lorne Sanny, former president of the Navigators, gave when a man asked him how he could know if he had a servant attitude.

Sanny replied, “By how you act when your are treated like one.

When someone treats you like a servant, do you get offended and think, “I deserve better treatment than this?”

Or, do you say- and mean it- “It’s all good. because I’m an unworthy servant.” 

For a servant’s duties might not be ones they’d pick, or would have imagined. Like what just came at me tonight- recouping pricey Pokemon cards stolen from one son and acquiring an Abe Lincoln hat the another. 

George Eliot was right:  We must find our duties in what comes to us, not in what we imagine might have been. The Master assigns the tasks we can’t imagine.

And, yes. This can be so hard. 

Heavenly Confetti
I feel it too. Because too often after a day at work then helping with homework then dinner and dishes, I do feel like I deserve better. Like confetti from heaven should dump down and we should all hear the thunderous voice declare, “This is my hard-hardworking daughter. With her I am well pleased. She deserves a night out.”
We can’t lose heart. The absence of heavenly confetti doesn’t mean our Master doesn’t care. God is not unjust. He will not forget your work and the love you have shown for His name as you have ministered to the saints and continue to do so. 
And don’t be deceived: God cannot be mocked. Whatever a man sows, he will reap in return.
We’ve got to keep serving. And waiting.

Blessed Are Those Slaves

Because Jesus told another parable about servants and masters and sitting down to eat. It’s recorded in Luke 12,

Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps alight. And be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks.Blessed are those slaves whom the master shall find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them.

We are servants. But our Master also calls us friends.

Kent Hughes says,The eternal marvel is this: God will do for us what our earthly masters will not do. And it’s all of grace. When Jesus returns for his servants, in some sense, he will wait on us.

We- his servants- will sit down at a banquet we have not prepared, nor do we deserve.

Just Doing Our Duty

All of that means that this vapor lifetime is just practice time for God’s servants.

Because when we fast forward to very last chapter of the Bible you’ll find servants serving again. There shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.

Forever and ever we’ll serve Him in glory.

And our duty will be entirely our pleasure. 

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

Ecclesiastes 12:13

More on Duty and a Poem:

1. Keven DeYoung put together a great list  of dozens of biblical reasons to obey.  Duty is only one. But it’s a good, God-given motivation. That’s why duty is not a dirty word.

2.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention in a post on duty, what John Piper famously called, “that dangerous duty of delight.”

The Bible does not teach that we should treat delight as a mere byproduct of duty. C. S. Lewis got it right when he wrote to a friend, “It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can.” Yes, that is risky and controversial. But it is strictly true. Maximum happiness, both qualitatively and quantitatively, is precisely what we are duty-bound to pursue.

3. A favorite George Washington quote: The consideration that human happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected will always continue to prompt me to promote the former by inculcating the practice of the latter.

4. A poem.

“When He Comes”

There’s a king and captain high,
And He’s coming by and by,
And He’ll find me hoeing cotton when He comes…
There’s a Man they thrust aside,
Who was tortured till He died,
And He’ll find me hoeing cotton when He comes.
He was hated and rejected,
He was scorned and crucified,
And He’ll find me hoeing cotton when He comes.
When He comes! When he comes! He’ll be crowned by saints and angels when He comes.
 They’ll be shouting out Hosanna!
To the Man that men denied,
And I’ll kneel among my cotton when He comes.
– French E Oliver, 1921
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