Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: August 2017 (Page 1 of 2)

Where Have I Been?

Ten days since I posted a blog–until yesterday.  Where have I been?  (Please, don’t dent my ego by saying you didn’t notice!)   I’ve not felt well enough to write.

Maybe I shouldn’t explain.  Might sound like I’m looking for pity.  I’m really not.  I’m telling my story, because it’s on my mind.  But more, because my experience may help you sometime.

In the last ten days, my weakness/numbness, always below my waist, seemed on occasion to climb into my head—bad enough to make serious thinking impossible.  But something else blocked my writing.  Unconsciously, I think I shied away from God’s Word because he seemed silent to my pleas for help and some healing.

I was acting like our dog.  A few days ago, I was about to give her a treat, when I must have unknowingly pinched her leg or paw under my wheelchair.  Whatever happened, she yelped.  Ever since, she won’t come close to get a treat. I’ve been acting like her.   God is sovereign, therefore he either sent or at least allowed my illness.  So unconsciously, I’ve shied away from his Word.  If I had to reason it out, I’d say I had little interest in the One who caused me to suffer.

That I can’t see any good in this just exacerbated my disinterest.  God works for the good in all things?  This suffering produces perseverance which produces proven character which enlarges my capacity to hope for coming glory?  My weakness increases my reliance on the Lord?  I didn’t see any of that.  In my heart, none of it seemed true.  And when someone suggested that maybe I, in my finiteness, wasn’t able to see the good the infinite God saw, I waved it off.  Convenient rationalization!

If God was, in effect, taking my writing (and serious reading) away . . . well, I couldn’t handle that!  I’ll just go sulk in my corner.

It didn’t help that I was reading a book on spiritual gifts, in which one of four authors argued that miraculous gifts ceased with the apostles’ deaths. He pointed out that Jesus’ miracles were signs of his messiahship, signs of his kingdom breaking in.  Miracles for then, for that unique period of salvation-history, but not for now.  His words dampened my hope for a miracle.

Then I recalled two Scripture texts.  (Was it the Holy Spirit?)  The first was John 6:53-68. Jesus had just told the Jews they had to “eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood; otherwise they would have no life in them.  “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.  So, Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’  Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life . . . ‘” .

“Lord, to whom shall we go?”  A provocative question.  If I turn away from Jesus because the all-loving, all-powerful God allows so much suffering, to whom shall I go?  If suffering disproves the existence of an all-loving, all-powerful God, I have nowhere else to turn.  Either I keep faith in this God who’s run his wheelchair over my paw, or I have no one, nothing.

I recalled a second Scripture–about Jesus having compassion on the sick. I found it—Matthew 14:13,14 . . .

“When Jesus heard [that John had been beheaded], he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”

Matthew goes on to report how Jesus miraculously fed 5000.  The feeding was a sign, but healing the sick is described as an act of compassion.  So, I started whispering this prayer . . .

“Jesus, look on me with compassion.  Take pity on me and heal me.”

Do you see what was happening?  I dismissed the idea that my illness came so I’d learn to lean more on the Lord.  But that’s exactly what was happening!  Unconsciously I was shying away from him who allowed me hurt.  Consciously I realized I had no one else to turn to.  So, I went to him–without any plea but for his pity and power.  To him who held power to protect me–or heal me–but hadn’t.  To him who allowed my hurt.  To him who I unconsciously shied away from.  I turned to him–as if drawn by a silent power greater than mine.

How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33b).  Or as these worshippers sang it  , , ,

Now for the last two days, I’ve felt better.  Not great, but better.  And, more importantly, I’ve felt closer to him–or him closer to me.  It may become more difficult to write.  But I’ll keep on as long as he enables me.  And I’ll stop acting like our dog, because . . .

“if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (1 Timothy 2:13).

“If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31b-39).







Dead to Sin

                   “Not guilty!  You’re okay with me. My grace covers it all.”–God

Sounds like something out of The Cotton Patch Version of the New Testament ( ).  It does capture Paul’s concept, but maybe it’s too colloquial.  Here are Paul’s words—the source of my “quote” . . .

“Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.  But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:18-20).

It’s not about what we do; it’s who we’re connected to.  Connected to Adam, we’re condemned sinners.  Connected by grace through faith in Christ, we’re made right with God, whose grace is always greater than our sin.

A dangerous doctrine.  If we’re justified by faith apart from works, and if God’s grace is always greater than our sin . . .

“What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” (6:1,NRS).

Paul expects his Jewish Christian readers, especially, to raise that objection.  If my sin evokes God’s grace, and if the revelation of grace glorifies God, why shouldn’t I trespass God’s laws and sin?

Who would actually think like that?  Well, I might.  Maybe my attitude toward sin is too “soft”.  Maybe I presume God will be gracious no matter what.

Paul slams the door on that thinking—and for a startling reason . . .

“By no means!  How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” (l6:2, NRS).

We died to sin!  What can Paul possibly mean?  By sin he doesn’t mean acts of sin; he means the power of sin.  Something happened to us so that sin’s power no longer dominates us: we “died to [the power of] sin”. 

The NRS’ “go on living” translates one Greek word, zaysomen.  It means “to live” or “to be alive to”.  Paul’s question is rhetorical.  Since we “died to sin”, of course we can’t still be alive to it!  Sin has no power over a dead man!

Who, though, is “we”, and when did “we”  die to sin’s power?

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? ” (6:3, NRS).

“We” refers to “all of us who have been baptized in Christ Jesus” and “when” obviously is when we were baptized.  Commentators differ, though, on the meaning of “baptized into”.  Some argue Paul is referring to literal water baptism, others that Paul is using “baptized into” to refer to a spiritual union with Christ produced by the Holy Spirit. I think that the union is produced by the Holy Spirit, but at belief/baptism.  (I put them together because I understand the early church baptized a new believer immediately upon his faith.)

This baptism “into Christ Jesus” is a baptism “into his death”.  Paul goes on to say, “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death . . . ”  Mystery here, but one whose truth we mustn’t overlook.  In our faith/baptism we are baptized into Christ’s death and buried with him.

In 44 years of pastoral ministry, I don’t remember once carting off a newly-baptized believer to be buried!  I’m being goofy—just to make an obvious point.  Paul is referring to a spiritual experience, not a physical one.  But how to explain Paul’s language?  What happened to us?  In a mysterious way the Holy Spirit “connected” us to Christ in his death and burial to cause us to “die” and be “buried” to the power of sin.

Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (6:4, NRS).

God’s purpose in our spiritual union with Christ in his death and burial—and now, Paul implies, with Christ in his resurrection—is that “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father . . . we too might walk in newness of life.”  That is, not under the power of sin, but in the resurrection power of God.

Therefore, justification by faith apart from works isn’t an excuse for sinning but a call to put into practice who we are in union with Christ!

This raises an important point.  The Christian faith isn’t all Bible and theological doctrines.  When I say that, I’m not demeaning the Scriptures; they are the written Word of God.  And without knowing correct theological doctrines we’re all “at sea” about what the truth is that we believe.  But both the Word and the doctrines are intended to lead us to God.  And that means experience.  In this case, the experience of a nature-change.  Once “alive” to the dominating power of sin, now through faith in Christ (proclaimed publicly through baptism) our nature becomes “dead and buried” to the dominating power of sin.

That raises a challenging question:  if true, why do we still struggle with sin?  Answer:  though this nature-change is real, we must apply it.  After discussing our nature-change in 6:5-10 (we’ll walk though that next time), Paul urges his Roman-church-readers . . .

“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (6:11) . . .

And again . . .

“Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness” (6:12,13).

So. because we are dead to sin’s power and alive to God in Christ, we have to think of ourselves that way.  And we must stop offering ourselves to sin’s power, but instead offer ourselves to God to do what he declares is right.  If sin still dominates us, it’s because we’re not thinking of ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God, and it’s because we’re offering ourselves to sin instead of to God.

A comment should be made about the purpose of our being made “dead to sin”–“so that . . . we too might walk in newness of life.”  This translation is to be preferred to the NIV’s, so that . . .  we too might live a new life”.
” . . . newness” is the Greek kainotays and refers not only to something recent and different, but extraordinary (Friberg Greek Lexicon).

Paul teaches that we have been connected to Christ, not only in his death, but in his resurrection:  “so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life”.   Implication:  we have experienced the Father’s resurrecting glory in our innermost being so we might live new.  Paul will write in more detail about that in coming paragraphs.

* * *

My take-away from this text . . .

I’m dressed in a hospital gown, lying on a table in the operating room  The surgeon cuts and scrapes, removes and inserts, then sews my sliced back together.  I feel nothing.  Not even aware to what he’s doing.  Because a power from outside myself (anesthesia) has “put me out”.  That’s how I should see myself regarding sin’s power.  It can’t dominate me, because I’ve been spiritually connected with Christ in his death, “put out” to sin’s power.

My image isn’t entirely accurate.  My ultimate death to sin won’t occur until  final bodily resurrection.  And I must stop presenting myself to sin as if it’s still my master.  But, first, I must “consider” myself dead to sin.  “So, Lord, help me keep seeing myself in that embarrassing gown, lying on that operating room table, ‘put out’ to the power of sin through my connection with Christ in his death.”








Radical Rerun

For almost two months I’ve commented on Romans 1-5.  Before launching into Romans 6-8, I need a rerun.  Just the high points.  To fix them in my mind.  Not only because Paul’s words are so profound, but because they paint a worldview sharply counter to our culture and, in some cases, even to our Christian culture.

This counter-culture theological worldview comes in the form of a letter written to a church in Rome.  We might rather expect a revelation of God to come mysteriously—maybe Paul alone in a cave when an audible voice speaks or a golden tablet appears.   But here it is in “ordinary” written correspondence, which, it is claimed, is Holy Spirit-inspired.  Mystery in everyday form!


Paul begins by boasting of the gospel ( “good news”) which is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”.  At the heart of the Christian faith we don’t find an encyclopedia of fine theological regulations to follow or even to simply believe.  At the heart of the faith is God’s power to save those who believe.  God’s power.  To save.  Those who believe.  Any who believes.


But why save?  Because God is revealing his wrath.  Humans have exchanged the Creator (known through his creation), and all his glory, for images of created things, including (maybe especially) of themselves.  Instead of blocking their desires, God gives them over to them—and to the consequences.  Perverted sex and gory violence are just two terrible examples.  This—God giving humans over to what they want instead of him—is God’s wrath revealed.

Even so, the day of God’s wrath is coming.  Everyone (even religious people, who refuse to admit their sin) is storing up wrath against themselves for that day.  No one is righteous.  No one truly seeks God.  It’s not just that humans sin; we are all under the power of sin.


But now, in God’s timing, we can be put right with God through faith in Jesus Christ.  Anyone can.  Sounds simple.  It is.  We can be put right with God by God’s grace as a gift.  Just accept the gift!  It’s free—but not to God.  God presented his Son as a sacrifice, and his Son willingly surrender to suffer God’s wrath (to absorb it someone said) so believers could be saved from it.  Free to us—just trust that it’s true—but infinitely costly to God.


Why by faith?  Because faith makes this salvation possible for anyone.  The least likely human—the biggest sinner, the most simple-minded, the most hypocritical religious “saint”—can be put right with God.  Why by faith?  Because there’s absolutely nothing we can do to get right with God.  All our attempts to dress ourselves up in our Sunday best for God is like dressing up in dirty rags.  Why by faith?  Because if we bring nothing to the table, then we get all the good as a gift and God gets all the glory as the giver.


When we trust God, regardless of how impossible this all seems, we become a descendant of Abraham—the old guy with a barren wife.  He became a father at age 100.  And God promised him and all his descendants would one day inherit the world.  What world?  A new one.  A paradise without all the “bad stuff” of this one.  And it will be ours.


Before that day, however, being put right with God brings believers a lot of good “stuff”.  Like peace with God—not more alienation or wrath from him.  Like grace every day no matter what.  Like rejoicing in suffering, because God uses suffering for good.  Like love from God poured out into believers’ hearts by the Holy Spirit.  Like reconciliation with God through the death of his Son.  Like rescue from the coming wrath.


It all comes down to the story of two men.  Adam is the first—and was the first.  When he ate God-forbidden fruit, sin entered the world, and death entered—the consequence of disbelieving and disobeying the Creator.  Everyone is Adam’s progeny.  And everyone by nature stands under sin’s power and repeats Adam’s sin.  Everyone exchanges God for something that, at the moment, looks better.

Jesus is the second man. God’s Son who offers the free gift of right-standing with God—and that leads to eternal life.  All humans are connected by birth with Adam and his sin.  All humans can be connected to Jesus Christ and God’s grace through him by trusting this good news of God’s power to save is really true.

* * *

Turns out what I’ve written isn’t a high-points summary of Romans 1-5.  More like sailing thoughts through my mind based on those chapters.  Though it’s not a scholarly overview,  I have two hopes from them.

One, that we realize how radical is this “gospel” we’re called to trust our lives to.  Over time, it becomes so familiar to us that it seems like “the same old thing”.  Radical?  Extreme?  No.  Maybe even kind of  common-place.  This is crazier than touching an angel-written golden tablet to be made holy!  How out of step with the culture this calls us to walk!  How far beyond our imagination is this revelation of God, this dark wrath of God, this amazing grace of God!  And how incomprehensible that the death of Christ on the cross could save believers from all their sins and all God’s wrath they deserve for all believers of all times and places!!

Two, I hope my thoughts prepare us for Romans 6-8.  Because if the first chapters seem “out there”, wait . . .








Two Men

This is the story—true story (though critics will claim it’s religious fanaticism gone further amok)—of two men.  The first, the first man (there had to be a first, right?—unless somehow “the Big Bang” explosively produced a horde).  To this first man we’re all connected; from him we all descend.  To the second man (the God-man!), some are connected.  He is the progenitor of  a new creation.

Paul introduces the first man as the means through which sin entered the world, thus explaining why humanity is estranged from God and needing the reconciliation of which he’s just written: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved (from God’s wrath) by his life” (Romans 5:10).

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—(5:12).

“Therefore” is the Greek dia touto, literally “on account of this”:  “On account of this (of believers’ rescue from God’s wrath) . . . ” (5:1-11).  With “just as” Paul begins to compare the effects of Adam’s sin with the effects of Christ’s grace.  But he breaks it off (hence the dash ending this verse), not to pick it up until 5:18.  In other words, “ Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.”

Before we get there, we should note that by “sin” Paul doesn’t mean specific acts but sin as a power (see 3:10), entered the world through that first man.  And death (as the consequence of sin—death as physical expiration and death as separation from God) entered the world through sin.

Thus, the Bible’s answer as to why we die, why we can’t conquer death, is sin against the Creator.  Adam chose to disbelieve and disobey God by eating the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3).

Consequently, claims Paul, “ . . . death came to all men, because all sinned.”  Implicitly, “all sinned” because of the Adam-connection.  But what is the connection?  Some commentators/theologians explain that Adam was “the federal head” of the race, thus representing us all in his sin and subsequent death.  Others explain that Adam’s progeny were all present in him; thus all sinned and all die.

I’ve always favored the view that says we all get Adam’s immoral “genes”.  That is, we inherit a sinful, depraved nature from our forefather and all sin and all die.  (This, I just learned is known as “the Roman Catholic view” and is held by many Wesleyans and Arminians.)  Whatever.  Choose your view.   Paul is obviously saying that we’re all connected in some way to Adam and all have sinned as he did and so death comes to us all.

” . .  .for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law” (5:13).

Again, sin is more than acts of breaking God’s law.  It’s the power of evil that “was in the world . . . before the law was given.”  But sin is not marked down as a rebellious transgression against God’s law “when there is no law.”

“Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come” (5:14).

Despite the absence of law-breaking (because God had not yet revealed his law) death ruled from Adam’s time to Moses’ (when God issued his law).  Humans sinned, but not “by breaking a command, as did Adam” (“You shall not eat the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden . . . lest you die”—Genesis 3:3).

Adam was not only the means of sin and death entering God’s creation, he also was “a pattern of the one to come.”  By “pattern” (Greek, tupos) Paul means Adam was a prophetic symbol who pictured Jesus Christ long before he came.

But in what sense was Adam a “pattern” of Christ?  Adam’s one disobedient act impacted the entire human race.  Christ’s one act of obedience impacted the “new human race”—all who would believe in him

“But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.  For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.  Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (5:15-19).

A pattern Adam may be, but his trespass and Christ’s gift, though alike in impact, are poles apart in results.  Paul emphasizes this with phrases like “how much more did God’s grace and gift . . . overflow to the many!”  And “how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace . . . reign in life” (5:17). 

The contrast is severe.

Connected to Adam one “dies by the trespass of the one man” (that statement seems to support the belief that somehow we are guilty for Adam’s sin); one stands condemned under God’s judgment following Adam’s “one sin”; one lives under the reign of death; one stands condemned with “all men . . . as the result of one trespass”; one lives among “the many [who] were made sinners . . . through the disobedience of the one man . . . “

Connected to Christ, one receives “God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of . . . Jesus Christ” (that is, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross); one has “the gift” that “brought justification”; one receives “God’s abundant provision of grace and . . . the gift of righteousness (that allows one to reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ”; one receives “justification that brings life”; one is “made righteous”.

Actually, using “one receives” throughout my comments on 5:15-19 isn’t accurate.  Often Paul uses “the many”—“the many died by the trespass of the one man”; “the many were made sinners . . . the many will be made righteous.”  “ . . . the many” is merely stylistic.  None are not sinners (“all have sinned”—3:23).  And only “those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace . . . reign in life.”

“The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20,21).

Paul finishes this paragraph by a word about the law’s purpose and about the super-abounding nature of God’s grace in Christ.  The law doesn’t change the Adamic nature of humans; it only reveals humans’ sin and makes humans increasingly aware of it.  This what Paul means by, “The law was added so that the trespasses might increase.”  But the more sin increased (both in realization of sin and the practice of sin), God’s grace multiplied “to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Despite the power of sin reigning over Adam and his progeny (all of us), God’s grace must and will reign through Christ’s righteousness to bring eternal life to many.

* * *

It’s not fair!  That’s how I first respond to this two-men story.  Why should my family tree traced all the way back begin with Adam?  Why should I be connected to him, so that I’m cursed with a  bent toward sin, or am born with a sinful nature, or have Adam’s guilt imputed to me?   Why should death reign over me because of Adam?  Why should his disobedience make me a sinner?  Nobody asked my opinion.  Nobody recorded my vote.  It’s not fair.

On the other hand, look what else God has done.  He’s given me the free gift of justification.  He’s given me the free gift of righteousness so that I will reign in life.  He’s given me grace and the free gift of grace that abounds.  Even though God’s law increases my sin, God’s grace abounds all the more.  He’s given me grace that leads to eternal life.  All this because of the second man in the story.  I’m connected to him.  Not by my works, just by  grace through faith.   And that’s not fair either.  That’s grace.










My Muddled Prayers

Puritans held a high view of God’s sovereignty and humans’ sinfulness.  Nothing happened outside his will.  He is the King and his kingdom rules over all (Psalm 115:13).  Humans are depraved and incapable of doing anything toward their salvation.

Here’s a sample from a Puritan prayer in The Valley of Vision . . . 

“I can plead nothing in myself
in regard of any worthiness and grace
in regard of thy providence and promises,
but only thy good pleasure . . .

Help me to pray in faith
and so find thy will,
by leaning hard on thy rich free mercy,
by believing thou wilt give what thou hast promised . . .

So shall I wait thy will, pray for it to be done,
and by thy grace become fully obedient.”

The prayer harmonizes with the apostle John’s promise and with the psalmist’s proclamation . . .

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us– whatever we ask– we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14,15).

“The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19).

I draw two conclusions.  One, my illness is God’s will.  Satan may be involved in some way, but ultimately the sovereign God has allowed it as what he wants for me at this time in my life.  Two, I must pray for God’s will to be done with me in this illness.

Does that mean I should pray for contentment with him, for grace sufficient to endure?  Or can I pray for healing?  If I were content in him, he would be glorified. If I were miraculously healed, he would be glorified.  How I should pray—and what the results would be (whether contentment or healing)—would result in God’s glory.  So God’s glory doesn’t tell how I should pray.

I’ve written here before that in his weekly phone call my brother-in-law prays for my healing.  So does a prayer group in his church (the church in which Lois and I grew up).  And so do I, pointing to Matthew 14:13,14) . . .

“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”

And I pray: “Jesus see me.  Look on me with compassion.  And please heal me.”

I pray relying on Jesus’ mercy, because, while I have great confidence that he can heal me, I don’t have great confidence that he will.  So sometimes I pray for a gift of faith.   Often I’m just confused.

Praying for contentment in the Lord while enduring this illness seems like surrendering to it.  Everything in me wants to fight back.  To stubbornly refuse to give ground.  To stomp it out.  (Not by myself—with the Lord’s grace and healing work.)

Yet I find a certain peace in simply praying, “Your will be done.”  I can rest, not be agitated over healing I want but so far can’t have.  I can focus my thoughts on the Lord.  (Sounds so spiritual.  Honestly, often when I do the question intrudes, “But why won’t he heal me?”)

Despite that nagging intrusion, I think I should pray, “Your will be done” (keeping my prayer for healing on the perimeter).  The sovereign Lord has led me into this valley for this season of my life.  He will keep me here as long as he wants—until my dying day or until my healing.  (Either way, he has eternal healing for me!)  And here, instead of slipping into a mire of depression, I can meet with him in his Word and in prayer.  I can seek contentment in him.  I can admit what is more than ever painfully obvious:  I am utterly dependent on him.  Instead of withdrawing in anger or disappointment, I can draw near to him.  I can know Jesus in the fellowship of suffering (Philippians 3:10).  I can pray this Valley of the Vision prayer . . .


Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin, I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox

          that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,       

          that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from the deepest wells
and the deeper the wells the brighter the stars shine.

Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.

( I will inevitably sneak in:  “And if you want to heal me today, please do!”  That’s okay, right?  Ah, my muddled prayers!)



God gives generously, liberally, abundantly.  More than can fit in one blog!  So here’s the rest of the “good stuff” that comes to us justified-by-faith-in-Christ-people in Romans 5:1-11 . . .


“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us . . . ” (5:3,4a).

. . . rejoice in our sufferings” An oxymoron.  Suffering isn’t joyful.  It’s in the world because we humans exchanged the Creator’s glory for our own images.  And, in wrath, God gave us over to what we want—and the consequences. But, for the justified, God uses suffering to produce perseverance (or, endurance) in us.  Perseverance develops character—a difficult-to-interpret Greek word which moves one writer to picture a veteran soldier, no longer a boot-camp rookie, now battle-tested and toughened.  And that character produces our capacity for hope of future glory.  And, Paul writes, that hope “does not disappoint us . . . . “ –it will in no way fail to satisfy us!

“ . . .  rejoice”, again, is a verb.  (Not a state-of-being noun.)  And rejoicing ”in our sufferings” is something, says Paul, we can do because we are justified and because of what suffering-as-justified-people produces—endurance, character, and non-disappointing hope.

I’m still working on this one.  Haven’t gotten it down yet. I want healing from my physical sufferings.  Am I wrong?  Should I be praying for the ability to rejoice in my sufferings?  Apparently so.  Wouldn’t it be great to rejoice in our sufferings?  Holy Spirit, enable me!


“And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (5:5).

The reason our hope of sharing God’s glory will not end in disappointment is this:  “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”.

Paul’s words recall Ezekiel’s new covenant prophecy . . .

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

In this case, Paul writes God, by the Holy Spirit, has poured out “his love” into our hearts.  By this Spirit-given love, God inaugurates our certain hope.

This love is subjective–love we sense, feel.  It bears witness with our spirit that the loving God is at work within us by the Holy Spirit.

The foundation for this love poured out and for our justification itself, however, is objective, not left to the realm of feeling . . .

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:6-8).

It was “just the right time” according to God’s timing.  “ . . . we were still powerless”, totally helpless to escape God’s wrath.  We were “ungodly”—anti-God, blasphemous, depraved.  We were “still sinners”—living in conscious opposition to God’s good will.

And “Christ died for us.”

Sure, occasionally some will die for a good person.  A soldier for his buddy, for instance.   But only Christ will die for wretched sinners.  And only God will  demonstrate his own love for us like that!


“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (5:9,10).

Paul makes a logical argument.  Since God did the more difficult thing (justifying sinners by Christ’s blood), then he can do the less difficult thing (save them from his coming wrath).  By the way, let’s make no mistake.  While God in his wrath gives God-rejecters over to their lusts, the day of his wrath still comes (2:5).  But there’s no way God will allow his wrath to touch his justified.


“Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (5:11).

Not only will the reconciled be saved from God’s future wrath, reconciliation gives us cause to rejoice now in God.  The Greek kauchauomen means “boast of with joy” or “glorify with joy”.  The key to this rejoicing in God is “reconciliation”, which Paul uses to sum up justification and all its benefits.  The Greek for “reconciliation” is katalagayn referring to the reestablishing of a personal relationship.  We who have trusted God’s justifying work through Christ now have a personal “connectedness” with God himself.  “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (8:16a).   In this God, Paul writes, we rejoice.

* * *

As I admitted above, I’m still working on the rejoicing-in-suffering “stuff”.  I get what Paul’s saying.  Suffering produces perseverance in me, perseverance produces proven character, and proven character increases my capacity to hope in sharing God’s glory.  I just want to go to God’s glory with the bottom half of my body working!  So I pray, and I ask you to pray, that, trusting the good God promises to bring from it, I might rejoice in my suffering for as long as it continues.

Poured-out love is a warm fuzzy.  Well, it’s more than that, but not less.  There’s nothing like feeling loved, especially when you don’t deserve it.  And there is nothing like feeling loved by God.  I don’t feel it often.  But I know that feeling comes when I’m meditating on his Word that tells me he loves me.  (I think there’s a lesson to be learned there somewhere!)

Paul seems to overdo rescue from God’s wrath.  It under girded his “Peace with God” benefit.  Now, here it is again.  Maybe it’s because he knows we underplay it.  A terrible day of God’s wrath is coming.  (Don’t you wonder how he can still withhold it when you look at the world?)  But he will shelter us from his wrath, because he’s already rescued us from it through Christ.

For me, rejoicing in God (that is, joyfully give him glory) doesn’t come automatically.  Largely this is due to my illness.  I have to meditate on his Word that tells me who he is and what he’s done.  When I do–and when I do it in an attitude of prayer thinking deeply about his Word (such as Romans 3:21-5:11) joyful praise to him comes.

And that’s when I realize again that God himself is the greatest “good stuff” of justification!




Good Stuff from Justification (1)

What “stuff“ exactly?  Might sound greedy to ask what we get from justification.  Maybe “consequences” is more palatable.  But in Romans 5:1-11 Paul lists the “stuff” (or, “consequences” if you prefer) . . .


”Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ . . . “ (5:1).

Paul has just summarized 3:21-4:24 with these words:  “ [Jesus our Lord] was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”  Now comes the “stuff” that follows as a consequence of being put in right-standing with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

We should note that this means nothing for the person who believes he’s “good” so he’s “okay” with God.  This is why 1:18-3:20 is so important.  We’ve exchanged creation-revealed knowledge of God for our idols.  Therefore, God has given us over to the lusts we want to gratify—and their consequences.  This is God’s wrath in the world’s everyday life.  But religious people have no excuse.  They do the same as the God-rejecters and won’t repent. Therefore, they are storing up wrath against themselves on the day of God’s wrath.  Conclusion:  all are sinners; all are accountable to the God of righteousness and wrath.

But “we”, who’ve trusted the crucified and resurrected Christ, “have peace with God.”  Wrath has been appeased.  The war is over.


“ . . . through [our Lord Jesus Christ] we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (5:2a).

The English “gain access” comes from the Greek, prosagogen, a word used of admission into the presence of a person of high rank. The fact that Paul uses it with “into this grace in which we now stand implies continued access.  So we, who believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and are now justified, have ongoing access into grace.   So there we now stand.

I picture it like this.  The most common definition of “grace” is “God’s undeserved favor.”  God’s favor is an ocean.  We’re standing in it knee-deep as gentle waves of grace wash over us again and again.  It’s another benefit of being justified by faith.


“And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (5:2b).

“ . . . rejoice” (Greek, kauchometha) obviously is a verb (unlike “peace”—above—which is a noun and, therefore, something we are given as a result of being justified).  So, rejoicing “in the hope of the glory of God” is something we do, says Paul, and able to do because of being in right-standing with God.

This rejoicing is specific.  It’s “in the hope of the glory of God.”  “Hope” isn’t a wish; it’s a confident expectation the future has broken into the present through Christ’s resurrection.  “ . . . in the expectation of the glory of God” captures the sense of the word.  The “glory” of God (Greek, doxa—splendor, grandeur, power) is what we fell short of (3:23) and what we exchanged for our images (1:21).  Now we rejoice because our confident expectation is to gain what we lost.

It should be noted that ”the glory of God” is more than a simple definition can contain.  If I say “God’s glory is all that he is in his splendor, grandeur and power”, we’re stepping closer.  But, in my view, “glory” is a “catch-all” word to express the inexpressible.

Why is “the glory of God” a hope in which we rejoice?  Because God’s glory will be revealed in us (8:18). This will include “the redemption of our bodies” (8:23).  My imagination could soar here.  But I’ll tamp it down, so we can move on.  (You, go ahead.  It will be more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20,21).

* * *

We take peace with God (benefit #1 of justification above) pretty much for granted.  I think that’s because our culture has penetrated our minds, and we can’t envision God’s wrath against us.  God is love, right?  Besides wrath sounds so 18th century puritanical.  But the wrath-war has ended only because God makes us right with himself through our faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ.

Standing in the “ocean” of God’s grace as waves of his kindness and favor continually wash over us can be a tough image to accept, especially in times of suffering and pain.  How is this grace?  How is this undeserved love?  But like “peace with God”, “standing in grace” is a state of being for the justified, not something we have to do.  We’re standing in the “ocean” of God’s grace even if it feels like a dry desert at times.

Hopelessness is one of the worst emotions.  Many of us struggle with it as we face death, because we will die with much undone we wanted to do.  Only in the movies do we get to check-off everything on our “bucket list”.  But we who are justified have a future beyond our last breath here.  Paul calls it “the glory of God.”  I can’t define it.  But gaze at a field of wildflowers, or pounding ocean waves, or majestic mountains.  Creation is a tiny revelation of “the glory of God.”  Or read the Gospels and watch Lazarus come out at Jesus’ command, and envision Jesus suffering an agonizing, bloody death in our place.  And then read of the empty tomb and Jesus meeting Mary and showing his wounds to doubting Thomas.  Jesus is the supreme revelation of “the glory of God.”  And justification opens the floodgates of rejoicing in our future of God’s glory.

Pretty good stuff, no?  More to come next time . . .

I Will Not Die But Live

The words.  Suddenly, there they were.  In my mind.

“I will not die but live.”

It was last Thursday afternoon.  I don’t remember now what I was doing.

I had been thinking lately about death.  Primary Lateral Sclerosis is chronic, not terminal.  But complications arise and, who knows?  Besides, I sometimes feel like I’m dying.  (That’s probably more emotional than physical.)

So death-on-my-mind was the larger context.  But I wasn’t thinking about it when the words came . . .

“I will not die but live.”

Scripture?  Sounded like it.  But I couldn’t place it.  So I cranked up by Bible software and found it.  Psalm 118:17.  Here’s the whole verse . . .

  “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.”

And here’s the critical question that immediately came with it:  Where did the words come from?  I’d certainly read that verse–that psalm–before.  So:  inexplicable recall?  Too much rich dessert the night before?  The Holy Spirit?

I read through the whole psalm–a psalm of thanksgiving to the LORD for his steadfast love . . .

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.  Let Israel say: ‘His love endures forever.’ Let the house of Aaron say: ‘His love endures forever.’  Let those who fear the LORD say: ‘His love endures forever’” (118:1-4).

The psalmist testifies how the LORD rescued him from death . . .

“In my anguish I cried to the LORD, and he answered by setting me free. The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? The LORD is with me; he is my helper. I will look in triumph on my enemies. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.  All the nations surrounded me, but in the name of the LORD I cut them off.  They surrounded me on every side, but in the name of the LORD I cut them off.  They swarmed around me like bees, but they died out as quickly as burning thorns; in the name of the LORD I cut them off.  I was pushed back and about to fall, but the LORD helped me.  The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.  Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: “The LORD’s right hand has done mighty things! The LORD’s right hand is lifted high; the LORD’s right hand has done mighty things!”  I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done. The LORD has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death” (118:5-18).

He goes on, then, to describe a festive occasion when all the people celebrate the LORD’s steadfast love that endures forever . . .

 “Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.  This is the gate of the LORD through which the righteous may enter.  I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation.  The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.  This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you. The LORD is God, and he has made his light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God, and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever” (118:19-29).

It’s a triumphant, celebratory psalm that Israel sang and was used of Jesus during his Jerusalem entry (Matthew 21:9).  But here’s my question:  dare I used verse 17 of me?  In other words, given the fact that it just popped from nowhere into my mind, was that the doing of the Holy Spirit for me?

I did a quick exegesis.  I understood that the psalmist spoke, “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done” after the LORD had rescued him from possible death.  So our situations (his and mine) weren’t the same.  I was still fighting my battle.  Even  though I wasn’t surrounded by “all the nations”, could the Holy Spirit have “spoken” the words to me and for me?


Scoffers will say I’d read it before.  It was there in my memory.  Just happened to come to conscious level because I had been thinking of death.  Theologians might say, “Those words were the psalmist’s for his celebration.  Not yours.”

But that’s what I’m doing.  I’m daring to say those words didn’t come from nowhere, or from unconscious memory, or too much chocolate.  Label them however–prophecy, word of knowledge, impression.  I choose to believe they came from the Holy Spirit.  They are his words to and for me.

Sure, I’ll die.  Just not soon.  Maybe not for a few years.  Meanwhile, I won’t give in to this dreadful illness.  By God’s grace, I’ll do all I can.

After all, I have a mission:  “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.”  Blog the Bible.  Blog lessons learned and questions raised.  Preach the Lord’s wonderful deeds.

Yesterday and today I’ve not felt well.   Two down days.  But, yes, the Holy Spirit still speaks.  And, yes, he’s spoken to me.  He spoke his inscripturated word for me.  So, even on down days I’ll wield his words like a weapon.  Against Satan.  Against my unbelief.  They’re my triumphant proclamation until the day (not soon) when he does hand me over to death.  Until then (not soon), listen . . .

“I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.”


What People Really Want

I just finished reading Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?  Four different theologians contribute four different perspectives on that question.  I may  comment on it in later blogs.

What I want to write now is the author’s compelling answer at book’s end to this question:   “What is the deepest concern of Christians in this area (of miraculous gifts)?”  Wayne Grudem’s answer spoke to my heart . . .

I don’t think that the differences we usually talk about among our churches are their deepest concern.  I do not think most Christians care deeply whether the pastor wears a coat and tie or a sweater or a robe, or whether the church has an Anglican liturgy or a Baptist order of service or charismatic spontaneity with tongues and prophecies.  I don’t think they care deeply whether the church leads music with an organ or with a guitar, or teaches that you should be baptized in the Holy Spirit or filled with the Holy Spirit. These matters are of some importance, but they are not matters of deepest concern.

“I think what people really want is to be in the presence of God.  They want to have a deeper experience of God as they participate in church life week by week.  They want times of prayer that are not just forty-five minutes of prayer requests and five minutes of prayer, and not just quickly praying through a long list of requests, but times when they can pray long enough—in an unhurried way—so that they not only talk to God but also hear his still, small voice bearing witness to their hearts.  And they want times of worship where, when they are singing, they are allowed to focus their attention on God for an extended time—where no one is interrupting them to tell them to greet their neighbor, or to sing loudly on the next verse, or to listen to the announcements, or to listen to the choir, or to fill out the registration card in the pew.  These things, of course, have a place, but they all shift our focus from God alone to the people around us, and they interrupt our times of deepest reverence in the worship of God alone.

“Christians instinctively long to be in an assembly of God’s people where they can focus their attention on God long enough that their eyes and minds and hearts are aware of nothing but his presence, where their voices are singing his praise (or perhaps silent in his presence), and where they are free to feel the intensity of their love for him and to sense in their spirits that God is there, delighting in the praises of his children.  That is what Christians today really long for.  They long to come to a church and be allowed to worship and pray until they sense in their spirits that they are in the manifest presence of God.

“When churches have allowed people to have such extended times of prayer and worship, this longing of Christians has been fulfilled, and these churches have grown remarkably.  No denomination or viewpoint on spiritual gifts should have a monopoly on such times of worship and prayer.  Cessationist churches and “open, but cautious” churches, as well as Pentecostal, charismatic, and Third Wave churches, can provide such times of prayer and worship, each with its own style and within guidelines that protect their doctrinal convictions regarding spiritual gifts.

“Of course, I am not saying we need to diminish the importance we give to sound Bible teaching, in which we have God’s voice speaking to us.  In many of our churches this is done well, in other churches it is not, and people go away spiritually hungry week and week because they have not been fed on the Word of God.  Yet I am saying that I think many churches need, in addition to such teaching, much more emphasis on extended, uninterrupted times of prayer and worship.  I think people are longing to come to church and to know in their experience that they have spent extended time in the manifest presence of God.”

To which I say a hearty, “Amen!”  By God’s grace, we had that when I pastored.  Now, retired and disabled, I can’t find it.  If I could, I’d wheelchair there, however difficult.  We need what this writer describes.  And my soul longs for it.


This book is available from Amazon at


Got Credit

It’d be crazy, right, if my next IRA report showed a generous stranger had credited $500,000 to my account.  In Romans 4:22-25 Paul announces God has credited righteousness to us who believe Jesus died as a sacrifice for us.

That (crazy) good news falls mostly on deaf ears, though, since we presume we’re “okay” because we’re essentially “good”.

But even a cursory reading of Romans 1:18-3:20 demolishes that idea.  In 1:18-31 Paul explains how we humans suppress the truth of God by our wickedness, and how God in his wrath gives us over to the horrible consequences of our God-less choices.  In 2:1-3:8 he charges that even religious people fall short of God’s standard and face the day of God’s wrath. Finally, in 3:9-20, like a powerful prosecutor, he charges that we’re all sinners dominated by sin’s power.  “None is righteous . . . no one does good!”

But in 3:21-31, with a big “But now”, Paul transforms into an old-fashioned newspaper boy shouting “Good News” on a street corner:  we unrighteous, bad-doers can be right with God!  Not by doing good, but by believing in the crucified Christ as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  (Again, this is good news only to people who believe 1:18-3:20 correctly describes our standing before God!)

In 4:1-21 Paul opens his Jewish Bible and presents the father of the Jews, Abraham, as the classic example of righteousness-by-faith.  Now, here in 4:22-25, he applies the gospel of justification by faith to his readers in Rome, and to us.

“This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness– for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:22-25)

“ . . .  credited” is the key word.  Paul repeats it three times in this little paragraph . . .

  • Abraham’s faith “was credited to him as righteousness”
  • “ . . . the words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also”
  • “It will be credited to us who believe in him . . . “

The original Greek word is logizomaiI, an accounting term.  “Because you believe,” God says, “I’ll credit your account with righteousness.”

Paul adds further substance to this (crazy) good news by showing it’s not some New Testament oddity, but a solid Old Testament witness.  Righteousness was credited to Abraham who believed God’s promise.  That promise has been fulfilled in Christ.  The foundation for justification by faith is Christ’s death on the cross.  But, as Abraham bears witness, the promise of being right with God has always been by faith apart from works.

Here Paul adds a dynamic dimension to faith:  it is faith “in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”  As God gave life to Sarah’s “dead” womb to birth Isaac, so he raised our Lord Jesus from the dead.  And by believing we are declared in right standing with God, though we are no more righteous than we were a minute before faith.

What, though, does Paul mean by Jesus “was raised to life for our justification”?  He means that resurrection completed Jesus’ work of putting the ungodly into right-standing with God.  Had Jesus remained in the tomb, all his claims would have been proven false.  But resurrection is a sign . . .

“Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.’ He answered, ‘A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here'” (Matthew 12:38-41).

Resurrection signifies Jesus’ words are true, both about himself and his work.  Therefore, resurrection “completes” his justifying work by signifying it is true.  It also adds a new dimension to justification.  It means not only that by faith we who are ungodly are declared to be in right-standing with God.  It means also that we are standing in the risen Christ.  His righteousness is ours.

* * *

For those who believe in the inherent goodness of man and that God’s okay with our being “okay”, this is only so much fanatical religious blather.  We’ve evolved out of the idea that sin is, well, sinful.  And talk about God’s wrath is likely to be met with bewilderment, at best.

I know soldiers lay down their lives for their buddies and strangers volunteer to help in hurricanes.  But how can any thinking person look at today’s world and believe man is inherently good?

What we’re offered to believe is that “Jesus was delivered over to death for our sin and was raised to life for our justification.”  Ah, there’s the rub.  To believe that is to admit we’re not inherently good–and that we can’t do anything to be good enough.

And to believe, as John Bunyan (17 century Puritan preacher best known for The Pilgrim’s Progress) wrote “he found in his heart a secret inclining to unbelief . . . Against hope, against reason, against ‘feeling’, against opinions of others, against all human possibilities whatever, we are to keep believing.”

God of all grace, help us.








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