Monday, January 31, 2011


God's Dividing Line: Christ Crucified, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

This past Sunday I was invited to preach at Staunton Baptist Church near Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia. As I prayed about the passage for my sermon, God led me to 1 Corinthians 1 and the issue of his dividing line. Paul here describes two (and only two) groups of people--those who are perishing and those who are being saved. The difference between these two groups is how they respond to God's greatest act--the crucifixion of his Son. Below is the outline for this sermon. I'd be happy to hear your comments!

God’s Dividing Line
Christ Crucified

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

A church divided
I grew up in a town that had several Baptist churches with numbers in their names—First Baptist, Second Baptist, Third Baptist, etc.
In many cases the latter numbers were formed due to a split from the earlier numbers
New churches were established by division rather than multiplication or growth
Some of us may have had similar experiences in church or even in our families

We have been a part of something that started as a unity, but ended up in division
The reasons for the division may have been subtly different, but the results were always the same
Often it is words or actions that lead to divisions

The church in Corinth was no stranger to division

Background on the first letter to the Corinthians
The city was not known as a bastion of morality
The Isthmian Games in honor of Poseidon
Paul stayed there for more than a year to win souls, disciple new believers, and plant a church
The church he planted ended up divided over many issues

1 Corinthians deals with some of those issues

In chapter 1, Paul commends the Corinthians for their response to God’s grace.
He also condemns them for the division that has developed over personalities

Our passage (1 Cor. 1:18-25) continues this idea of division by examining two things that may cause division
1. God’s Powerful Word
2. God’s Powerful Wisdom

God’s dividing line is clearly defined
What God says and what God does demands a response
That response creates a division between people

God’s dividing line is Christ crucified

1. God’s Powerful Word
1 Corinthians 1:18-20—Paul begins his discussion of God’s dividing line by noting that the things God has said (i.e., God’s Word) creates division

There are only two types of people for Paul (cf. 1 John 3:10)
a. Those who are perishing (“children of the devil”)
b. Those who are being saved (“children of God”)

We need to realize that in God's Word there is not middle ground. You cannot be sort of on one side or the other. You are either perishing without Christ or you are being saved by God's grace. There is no Oprah-like "all roads lead to heaven" position in Scripture.

The participles in these verses are present tense, indicating that this is an ongoing though not necessarily predetermined situation

The point is that those who are perishing and those who are being saved are currently in that state, although those who are perishing could know a change of state

According to Paul, God’s Word (particularly the message of the cross) produces these two groups

The question remains, how does the word of the cross do this?

The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing

God’s powerful word (the word of the cross) does two things
a. It destroys wisdom and cleverness (v. 19, cf. Isaiah 29:14)
b. It renders the best of the world’s best inept (v. 20)

The word of the cross is the power of God to those who are being saved
a. Those who experience salvation know that God’s power is not found in selfish exertion
b. God’s power is found in reliance on God’s provision—the cross of Christ

In this way God makes the wisdom of the world foolish
All of the world’s lofty attempts to make themselves gods are useless
But the humility (i.e., “the weakness”) of God results in salvation (Phil 2:5-8)

Relationship with God comes only through surrender to Christ (John 1:10-13)
Our response to God’s word of the cross creates division
We either find ourselves responding selfishly and siding with the world
Or we find ourselves being humbled by God’s grace and being saved by faith

God’s dividing line is Christ crucified

But God’s Word is not the only dividing line in our passage, we also see division caused by God’s Wisdom

2. God’s Powerful Wisdom
1 Corinthians 1:21-25—Paul now turns his attention to God’s dividing line as shown in his wisdom or actions

Paul points out that God in his wisdom had a plan (Romans 1:16-19; Gal. 3:6-9)

This plan preempted any effort on the part of the world or its wisdom to gain salvation/knowledge of God
Only by faith in God’s message of the cross could salvation be gained

The world’s wisdom is incapable of causing knowledge of God
a. Jews (i.e., the religious crowd) want miraculous signs
b. Greeks (i.e., the academic crowd) want wisdom or knowledge

Unfortunately for both groups God intended salvation to come in a “foolish” manner
God was “well pleased” to cause salvation to come into people’s lives by a foolish act
a. The act of preaching or proclamation (Romans 10:14-15)--of course, this proclamation is not simply a result of words, but is also one of deeds. To say that we have the knowledge of God and have experienced his mercy and then live like it is not true is not proper proclamation. Like Jesus, we need to learn to serve humbly and meet the needs of others while telling them about God's love. As Francis of Assisi is reported to say, "Preach always. If necessary, use words."
b. More to the point, though, it is the message of the proclamation that leads to faith and salvation (Romans 10:8-13)—Christ crucified

This message is simple—Christ the crucified One (Gal. 2:20; 3:10-14)--this is the message of the humility and weakness of God (see Phil 2). God, the Lord of the universe deemed it necessary to become a man, and not just any human, but one of no reputation. Remember, Mary was not married when she got pregnant. Jesus was known as "illegitimate." He was from the "wrong side of the tracks." As he grew up, he hung out with all the wrong people--a group of smelly fishermen, tax collectors, and wayward women. Jesus didn't go to the rich, the popular, or the religiously important crowd. He didn't hang out with kings, princesses, or important business people who could make his reputation. He hung out with the disenfranchised, the outcasts, the "least of these" in Israel. Then, horrors of horrors, he was sent to death row to be killed in the most horrible nature possible--crucifixion

Crucifixion was not JUST another means of capital punishment--it was a warning, a way of setting an example. The worst offenders were hung on a cross to make a point. They were put there to die slow and agonizingly painful deaths as a warning to others. It was the Romans' way of saying, "Don't follow this person's example."

Jesus didn't just come as a person of low estate, he died as one. His death took care of all of our sins, but it also labeled our Lord as "the least of these" or "Rome's most wanted." That is why the Jews (the religious crowd) despise this idea. Surely Messiah would be better than that, right? The academics aren't better off, they can't figure out how "wisdom" or "power" can be exhibited in humility and weakness. God understood it though, and that is why he went through this suffering!

John Stott sums it up this way: "I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I turn to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged into God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me. He set aside his immunity to pain, he entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death." (from The Cross of Christ) He came into this disregard because he regarded us with such love that he was willing to suffer the loss of all to gain us! That is the message of the merciful, awful, terrible, and loving cross. God knows us, and he knows our pain! And in spite of all our stuff, he is able and willing to save us.

This message/wisdom causes problems
a. It causes stumbling among those who look to religion to save (“a stumbling block to the Jews”)
b. It looks foolish to the wise folks

But to those who are being saved
a. The message of Jesus’ crucifixion is power ("There's power in the blood")
b. The message of Jesus’ crucifixion is wisdom--Jesus stooped low so as to raise us up. He humbled himself to make us great. He died so we could live!

God’s “foolishness” in the crucifixion is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s “weakness” on the cross is stronger than human strength (Phil 2:5-8; Gal 6:14)

Like God’s Word, God’s Wisdom requires a response from us
We can rely on our own efforts or wisdom or
We can rely on God’s “foolishness” in the cross to bring us salvation

Our response to God’s word will cause division

God’s dividing line is Christ crucified

Our choice is clear today—we can side with the world and our own selfish wisdom, or we can side with God and accept the “foolishness” of a dying and humiliated Christ

Amazing love, how can it be, that Christ my King should die for me

For those who are not Christians, you need to make a choice today—will you continue to try to save yourself by your own efforts or wisdom, or will you humbly submit to God and ask him to save you?

For those who are already Christ-followers, what can you do? You choice is easy to say but not so easy to do:
a. If you were brought to salvation by God’s humility and foolish message, do you think you can continue living it in your own wisdom and strength?
If God saved you by his own humiliation, then you need to humble yourself and live by his standard (Phil. 2:5-8)
b.This week, find some ways to “preach” God’s foolish message to a dying world
c. Live a life of humble service, speak to others about God’s message of salvation, be absorbed in living like Jesus (Gal. 6:6-10)

God’s dividing line is Christ crucified
Which side are you on?

Thanks for reading!

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Thursday, January 20, 2011


Living in the Light of Jesus' Coming, Part 2, 1 John 3:4-10, Theology Matters Series

Hello all:

I teach an Adult Bible Community at Thomas Road Baptist Church called the G.A.P. (for Graduates and Professionals), and each week I post the outlines and discussion questions from my lessons on the G.A.P. page on Facebook. A while back I started posting these notes on the blog too. So, here is the outline for our meetings on January 16-23, 2011. A while back we started a new series on 1 John entitled "Theology Matters." This lesson looks at 1 John 3:4-10 and discusses the idea that we need to consider how we live our lives in the light of the first advent of Jesus. Jesus' coming (according to John) offers motivation for us to pursue righteousness in our lives. His work at taking away sin and dissolving the work of Satan provide for Christians the ammunition we need to win the war against sin. If you have any questions or would like to add a comment or two, that would be great!

Living in the Light of Jesus’ Coming, Part 2
1 John 3:4-10
Theology Matters Series

Part 1 talked about Jesus’ future coming and described how we should abide in him as we prepare for his return

Part 2 actually looks back to the past, to the first coming of Christ—our passage today would make a good Christmas sermon (sort of)

1 John 3:4-10

Three things to consider from our passage
What Sin Is
What Jesus Did
How We Should Live

When Jesus came, new life came with him

1. What Sin is
Verses 4 and 8 give us some insight into the problem of sin

What is sin according to these verses? Sin is:
Practicing lawlessness
Sin originates with the devil

What did the devil do? Who is Satan? (cf. Isaiah 14:9-17; Ezekiel 28:12-14)
Although his origin may be a mystery (some scholars see the passages above as a description of Satan’s origin), we know that he is described as an accuser, a deceiver, and an opponent to all that God endorses
The passages above describe a person who is rebellious, and the story of Satan is one of rebellion as Satan sought to exalt himself above God
Satan disregarded the proper boundaries that God established and thus became evil (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6)

John here describes sin as practicing lawlessness
The idea here is not simply the breaking of God’s laws (although it does contain that idea)
The concept expressed here is one of continuing in a rebellious attitude—it is defiance

Sin is being like Satan, being a rebel against the authority of God
Sin exalts me to the place of God and puts God’s priorities at the bottom of the list
Sin hinders us from the life Jesus brings

When Jesus came, new life came with him

2. What Jesus Did
Verses 5 and 8 tell us what Jesus did in response to sin

What did Jesus do?
He appeared to take away sins (since he has no sin)
He appeared to destroy the works of Satan

One purpose for Jesus’ first coming was to deal with our defiance
Jesus brings hope to us—since he is sinless, he can deal with our sins
Jesus brings hope to us—since he has taken away our sins we can be forgiven and live in a proper relationship with God

Jesus “takes away” our sin by his death on the cross ( 1 Peter 2:24-25; John 1:29; Isaiah 53:12)—he provides what is necessary to undermine our defiance and our rebellion and to turn us into children of God (John 1:12-14)

A parallel purpose for Jesus' first coming was to destroy Satan’s works
The word “destroy” here carries the idea of “dissolve” rather than “annihilate”
Jesus came to break the power of Satan, to undermine the devil’s authority
Satan has not been eliminated, but his power has been reduced and his weapons impaired

Destroying Satan’s works is parallel to taking away sins—Jesus’ first coming effectively represented a sort of “secret invasion” on Satan’s rule that undermined both his power and our defiance. Jesus’ sinless sacrifice made it possible for us to overcome Satan
Jesus takes away our sin and brings ruin to Satan

When Jesus came, new life came with him

3. How We Should Live
If you are in the hospital, a nurse may come in periodically and check your vital signs. These include:

a. Pulse—an indication that the heart is working (typically around 72 beats per minute)
b. Blood pressure—an indication of how well your heart is working (120 over 80)
c. Temperature—may indicate serious infection (typically 98.6)

Verses 6-7 and 9-10 offer some vital signs for the Christian life
These verses present us with a type of contrast between the children of God and the children of the devil

Simply stated, you can tell a child by his or her family resemblance—you can tell which side a person is on by how he or she acts
Children of God do not live lawless or rebellious lives
Children of God do not look like the devil

Verses 6-7 tell us that children of God abide in Christ and do not practice sin. Rather, these people do what is right

What does it mean to do what is right?
This is not a reference to being righteous by works
John here is saying that if we belong to Christ, our lives will show what our Lord is
We will do right because of what he has done for and in us
Doing right means to abide in Christ, to do his works
Doing right means to avoid living lawless lives

Verses 9-10 elaborate on verses 6-7
"Born of God" is equal to "abiding in Christ"

What does it look like to be born of God according to John?
The person does not live a lifestyle of sin
God’s “seed” dwells in him—”Seed” is used to refer to God’s Word (Mark 4:14-15; 1 Peter 1:23), to God’s children (Matthew 13:38), and to Christ (Galatians 3:16-19). “Seed” here may also mean God’s nature (2 Peter 1:3-4)

Nonetheless, what John seems to be saying here is not that Christians are sinless (remember earlier in this book he warns against the false teachers’ claims of “sinlessness”—1 John 1:8; 2:1-2), rather he seems to be delineating the direction of the believer’s life

If God has given new life to us through abiding in Christ, then we cannot continue in a lifestyle of sin—it is contrary to what God has done in us

No one who sins knows Christ (1 John 3:6)

The practice of righteousness and love distinguish the children of God from the children of Satan
Righteous people do what is right
Children of the devil do not do what is right and they do not love others
This teaching echoes back to 1 John 2:7-11 of John’s letter—if we love other believers, it is evidence of our lineage to Jesus. If we hate other believers and treat them with disrespect, we cannot claim to abide in Christ

The difference between God’s children and Satan’s children is simply this—a right life that loves others

Satan hates and resists anything that belongs to God, so also his children

God’s children love the things God loves and do the things God asks them to do
The life of the Christian is summed up in Matthew 22:37-40—love God, love others
A person born of God in Christ will show traits like Jesus

There are only two kind of children in the world
a. Children of Satan whose distinguishing mark is yielding to sin or practicing sin
b. Children of God whose distinguishing mark is yielding to God and resisting sin (Romans 6:12-13; 12:1; James 4:7; Ephesians 6:13)

When Jesus came, new life came with him

In light of this, I think our application becomes clear. This week:

1. Watch how you live. Check your vital signs. Is your heart beating with what God things is important? Is there an infection of sin? Is your life characterized by rebellion against God or by submission to his righteousness? Do you abide in Christ or do you continue in sin?

2. One way to avoid sin is to get into God’s Word (Psalm 119:11; 105). Spend some time this week reading God’s Word—maybe look through 1 John and underline places where John speaks of God’s children. See where these descriptions fit you or where you need to repent and change

3. Since doing right is one part of being God’s children, look for opportunities this week to do the right thing. Pick up that piece of trash, help someone in need, share your faith with a friend, encourage someone, etc. Also, God’s children love each other—who in you Christian circle needs your love or encouragement? How can you help them?

4. Finally, don’t focus on failure—focus on God. You are not perfect, but Jesus is. Learn to rely on his Spirit to help you live right.

When Jesus came, new life came with him
How are your vital signs?

Discussion Questions
1. How can a proper understanding of sin help us rely on Christ more? How does the world understand sin? How do those in your circle? Does a proper understanding of sin help in motivating you to living a life of righteousness? If so, how?

2. Does John indicate that Christians will never sin or struggle with sin? Why or why not? What struggles keep you from doing the right thing? How can you do what is right in those areas?

3. How would you counsel a Christian living in habitual sin?
How do you respond to the idea that there are only two kinds of people in the world—children of God or children of Satan? What does a person have to do to be part of these families?

4. In what way does Jesus’ sinless life give us hope?
Since Jesus came to destroy Satan’s works, what can we do to speed up the final defeat of Satan?

5. Where can you do right and love others this week?

Thanks for reading!

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Sunday, January 09, 2011


An Amazing Contrast, Mark 6:1-6

Hello all:

I teach an Adult Bible Community at Thomas Road Baptist Church called the G.A.P. (for Graduates and Professionals), and each week I post the outlines and discussion questions from my lessons on the G.A.P. page on Facebook. A while back I started posting these notes on the blog too. So, here is the outline for our meeting on January 9, 2011. This lesson looks at Mark 6:1-6 and discusses the contrasting amazement found in this chapter. The contrast is between the amazement of the people of Nazareth and the amazement of Jesus at their unbelief. If you have any questions or would like to add a comment or two, that would be great!

An Amazing Contrast!
Mark 6:1-6


Our trip to Tennessee during Christmas Break
How many of you traveled during break?
What was it like “going home” again?
How were you received?

In Tennessee, we heard a sermon on Mark 6
Lisa and I discussed it in the Wal-Mart parking lot
I was struck by how this story is framed by an amazing contrast
On the one hand, you have the people of Nazareth being amazed at Jesus, and on the other, you have Jesus being amazed at his hometown folks

You may see some similarities in our passage today to your own homecoming, but I want us to see two other things:
1. The Crowd’s Amazement
2. Jesus’ Amazement

Mark 6:1-6

What amazes can hinder or inspire

1. The Crowd’s Amazement
Mark 6:1-2
Notice here that the crowd is amazed or astonished at Jesus. Jesus spoke to them, and they were amazed.

These people no doubt had heard of Jesus’ accomplishments (remember, he visited them once before—Luke 4:16-30—and he had done great deeds in Galilee)

In Luke 4, Jesus went to his hometown to preach. In his first sermon to them (from Isaiah 61), he claimed to be the Jewish Messiah. While the people were wondering at this claim, he quotes a proverb that is repeated in our passage today. Then, in a twist of sorts, Jesus mentions that many of the prophets did miracles and other mighty works OUTSIDE of Israel.

The implication is that these works were done outside of Israel due to Israel’s hardness of heart and lack of faith in God. Jesus is telling Nazareth that they won’t get miracles for the same reason.

Needless to say, the people got mad and tried to kill Jesus.

Now, here he is in Nazareth again. What could possibly be the result of this second visit?

Would Jesus get respect, or would he be rejected a second time?

Mark tells us that the result of this visit is that the crowd was amazed

In Mark 6:2, what was the source of the crowd’s amazement? What was it about Jesus that amazed them?
They knew his Messianic claims and preaching

The source of their amazement was as follows:
They were “amazed” at his words/wisdom
They were “amazed” at his works
Actually, they weren’t amazed at the words or the works per se, but they were amazed at who was doing them

The people wondered where Jesus came up with these ideas
They were puzzled or astonished at his speech and wisdom
They were amazed at his miracles
But their amazement was not made up of faith

They were surprised that a boy from home was doing so well

The amazement of the crowd hindered them from hearing and receiving Jesus

Mark 6:3—they begin to take offense at the hometown kid

These people were surprised that the carpenter’s kid could do these things
Didn’t he grow up right there in Nazareth?
Didn’t some of them know his brothers and sisters?
Hadn’t they all heard the “rumors” that he was an illegitimate child?
Didn’t they “know” the TRUTH about Jesus?

Their amazement was that this boy who years before had toddled around Joseph’s shop could all of a sudden show such promise
He didn’t have a seminary education
He wasn’t even certified by the religious leaders
He had no training in preaching, in theology, or in teaching methods

Jesus, the hometown boy from the wrong side of the tracks, was now the one speaking with authority

Like the skinny kid who never got picked in PE growing up to be the captain of the football team, the folks were amazed that this illegitimate child of Mary was speaking legitimately

The people of Nazareth judged Jesus primarily on what they thought they knew about him

“How could this hometown boy do so well?”—They wondered.

Amazement can hinder or inspire

What would the crowd say about us?
Maybe we’ve lived similar lives
We messed up early on—messed up our families, messed up with sin, messed up with addictions, we’d “never amount to much”
Maybe we were born on the wrong side of the tracks
Or maybe we were born to the “right kind” of family, but never seemed to live up to the promise of our lives
We were the “golden child” who seemed to have everything going his or her way—voted “Most Likely to Succeed” or captain of the sports team, president of the school body, etc.
Yet life never quite panned out—the hometown crowd was disappointed
Like George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” maybe we just got stuck

Then, somewhere along the way, we met Jesus and he changed us
Our past didn’t disappear and we didn’t necessarily become overnight successes, but something changed
That change involved our actions and our words
We didn’t act the way we used to act, we didn’t talk the way we used to talk
The change caused us to try to act like Jesus and to speak openly of his grace and love for others

Some folks were amazed, and they didn’t like it—in fact some were offended

Amazement can hinder or inspire us—what amazes you?

2. Jesus’ Amazement
Mark 6:4-6—Jesus addresses the crowd’s astonishment

A prophet is without honor—this is a familiar proverb that addresses the first three verses—those who know us the best are often least likely to think the best of us.
Why? Because they “know” us!
They think they know who we “really” are, so to speak (warts and all)

Like the people of Nazareth, however, Jesus is also amazed—he is amazed at the lack of faith he sees in his hometown

It is ironic that his rejection at home contrasts to his acceptance in other towns. The lack of faith at Nazareth is contrasted to the faithfulness found in others. (Remember the Gentile woman from the region of Tyre in Mark 7:24-30)

It is ironic that his rejection at home contrasts to his acceptance by others in other towns. The lack of faith at Nazareth is contrasted to the faithfulness found in others.

The lack of mighty works in Nazareth is ironically contrasted to the miracles Jesus does elsewhere.

The point here is this—the people are amazed at Jesus’ change and success, he is amazed at their lack of change and lack of faith

Amazement can hinder or inspire

Jesus was “amazed” at least once before—the story of the centurion’s daughter (Luke 7:1-9)
This man would not even expect Jesus to come to his house
He understood authority and simply trusted Jesus to accomplish what he said he would do

We need to learn from this centurion, we need to develop his kind of faith

When we choose to follow Christ, we must change. We should act different
We ought to be faithful to (i.e., “show faith in”) Jesus and do the works he calls us to do and speak the words he asks us to speak and act as though what he says is true
Being a Christ-follower in this way sets us against the world and its mindset—we become enemies (in some cases) to those who are familiar with us
Like Jesus, we may be rejected for our stand and for our claims

Amazement can hinder or inspire

On the other hand, a lack of faith(fulness) may lead to powerlessness
Jesus did few works among them due to their unfaithfulness to him

The Gentile woman and the Roman centurion received from Jesus because they responded to truth with faithfulness

The people of Nazareth would not accept the truth since they thought they “knew” Jesus

To know God through Jesus Christ requires a response of faith and faithfulness (John 1:11-13; 17:3; 7-8)

Jesus was amazed that they could not believe, that they could not be faithful
As a result, no power was manifested in their midst

The crowd was amazed at Jesus’ miracles, but Jesus was disappointed at their powerlessness

The crowd was amazed at Jesus’ works, Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith

Which would you rather be judged by: the crowd or Jesus?
How would the crowd judge you today?
How would Jesus judge you? Would he be amazed at your faith?

Amazement can hinder or inspire—what amazes you?

This story of amazing contrasts in Mark 6 starts with a return home, includes a conflict of expectations, and results in amazement. Some are hindered in coming to the truth due to their insistence that they know the “real” story, while others come to faith as they act in response to the truth spoken by the Lord

Some are simply amazed by the crowd, or the miracles, or the circumstances. Others find themselves amazed at the revelation of God’s kindness in Jesus and respond with faithfulness

I think there are some things we can do this week that will show whether or not we understand Mark’s point:

First, we must have a true relationship with God through faith in Christ alone. There is no other way to get past the crowd’s judgment or to avoid the hindering opinions of the chattering mobs. We must settle it once for all—Jesus is either completely in charge of our lives, or we will continue to bow our knees to lesser gods who think that they know the truth

Once we have set aside Jesus as the only boss for our lives (1 Peter 3:13-17), then we need to make him our focus. This week, spend time reading what God has said, not what others say God has said. Reread Mark 6, look at some cross references, dig into the Scripture. Don’t take my word for it. Investigate the truth. Spend time with the author and finisher of our faith.

Then do what he tells you to do—love God, love others. Who in your world has been rejected because they didn’t “measure up” to the expectations of others? Love them, show them respect. Take time to share your knowledge of God with others. Don’t worry about the opinions of the crowd, just tell them the truth.

Be amazed at what God has done and said, then get out there and actually act on it.

Amazement can hinder or inspire—which will it do for you this week?

Thanks for reading!

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