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James Merritt - In the Meantime

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    James Merritt - In the Meantime

In 2005, Yahoo created what was hailed at the time as a haven for the confused and the curious. It was called Yahoo Answers, it was kind of an online crowdsourcing deal and so what they did was, they just opened, opened up their venue, and they said anybody could ask any question that they want to ask. It was just your want, come want, come all. And they sent it out to the entire universe. Well, this year, for whatever the reason, Yahoo announced they were shutting down that site. So immediately, online publication began compiling the most hilarious questions that were posted on this forum over 16 years.

So I'm going to throw up, these are real questions that people asked on Yahoo over 16 years. Not making these up, these are real questions. How do I unbake a cake? I'm not making these up, I'm really not. Should spaghetti be way shorter? Will my laptop get heavier if I put more files on it? Why is everything in my grandmother's house moist? When did 9/11 happen? Do you think humans will ever walk on the sun? If Batman's parents are dead, then how was he born? I love that question. If I eat myself, would I become twice as big or disappear completely? These are actual, I'm not making these up.

Now I had a kid yesterday, we were having these serious questions, I had this kid ask me this question, he thought he was being cool. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? He thought he was being cool, I don't know, he's here somewhere. Well I found out yesterday he flunked kindergarten three times so I understand why he asked that question. Now, these are, see I told you I'd get you. See, these are funny, these are funny, but the site created a space for people to also ask very serious spiritual questions. About life after death, now these were some good questions. Is there proof that heaven exists? What is heaven supposed to be like? Where is heaven located? Will I see my grandmother in heaven? Do you go straight to heaven after you die? What do people in heaven do for fun?

You know as a pastor, I get obviously asked honestly a lot of questions, and one of the most interesting questions about heaven that I've heard is this one. If God loves me so much that he sent Jesus to die for me and he wants to take me to heaven, why doesn't he go ahead and do it? That's a great question. And honestly, when I got saved as a boy, nine years old, that question began to kind of come into my mind, you know, I thought to myself, if God loves me so much and can't wait for me to get to heaven, why doesn't he go ahead and take me there now? And then my light turned on, I got it. I said okay, I think I've figured it out. Evidently, you've got things you want me to do on earth before you take me to heaven or you would take me to heaven, that's what I believe.

If you're a follower of Jesus, you will not die, or should not die, one second before God wants you to die and until you die, it doesn't matter whether you're in the hospital, you're in assisted living, you're in a nursing home, you're in a wheelchair, God has a work he wants you to do, God has things he wants you to accomplish. And so, you can really summarize the life of a Christian in three words. In the meantime. In the meantime, until I get to heaven, what does God want from my life, what does God expect from me? Well this is a question that doesn't need to be crowdsourced, crowdsourced, because God did us a big, big favor. In one magnificent verse in the old testament, God tells us exactly what he wants us to do. He tells all of us exactly what he requires before we go to heaven.

Now, I'll tell you where this book is, okay, the book is in the old testament. It's a prophet called Micah, okay. Now you may not know where Micah is, if you want to get on your iPhone or pad or your bible, go to Genesis and just start going right, okay. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, first and second Samuel, first and second Kings, first and second Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Solomon Song, Isiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Jonah, Micah, so it's right after the book of Jonah, okay. So you go to the book of Micah.

Now here's a fun fact. The last 12 books of the old testament were written by what we call minor prophets. Now let's be honest, most Christians can't even name the minor prophets, and even worse, most Christians have probably never even read much of the minor prophets. Cause let's be honest, you're more likely to have read Matthew than you are to have read Micah. You are more likely to have read John than you have to have read Joel. More likely to have read Ax than you have to have read Amos, and that's somewhat understandable because look, we are new testament Christians, we are not ancient Jews and so I understand that, I get that, yet what I have found is some of the greatest biblical principles and truths found anywhere in scripture are in the minor prophets which are anything but minor. Because the first, the verse we're going to study today, believe it or not, is one of the most well known verses in all the prophets. I've heard politicians quote this verse. I've seen this verse on bumper stickers. It's been written on posters. It's been written on, at protests. It's been printed on coffee mugs.

Now the amazing thing is it's only one verse. And it's only in three sentences but big things really do come in small packages. And this small verse answers this real big question. So what does God want me to do in the meantime? Until my number is up and my name is called, it is time for me to check out, what is it that God requires of me? What does God want of me? Now, let me just say this, to understand this verse, you need to remember something as believers. If you're a believer, this is true of you. If you're a follower of Jesus, that means you've accepted the gospel. The gospel is that Jesus died for our sins, he was physically raised from the dead. If we repented our sins and placed our faith in him, we will be saved, we'll be forgiven, we'll receive eternal life, we'll have a relationship with God.

We all know that, but here's the problem. Far too many Christians think that's where the gospel ends, it's not. That's where the gospel starts. That's not where the gospel ends. Because the gospel not only tells us how to relate to God, the gospel also says, once you are right with God, then you know how to relate to other people. So in other words, there is a vertical appropriation of the gospel but that's to be followed by a, by a horizontal application of the gospel. See, the gospel's not just an Instagram post. You don't just love the gospel. You live the gospel. My life is a gospel saturated life. I go to bed thinking about the gospel. I wake up thinking about the gospel.

I ask God every day to give me an opportunity to share with somebody the gospel because I, I've finally got it through this thick head of mine, you know what, the gospel are to guide my steps, it ought to guide my decisions, it ought to guide my purchases, it ought to guide how I vote, it ought to guide my habits, and the result of all of that should be a world that is more just, not less. Because God not only seeks to justify people who are lost, we know that. But we're going to find out that God also seeks justice for all people, whether they believe in him or not. And we have a biblical responsibility to do all that we can to make this world a better place to live in so you're going to find out that we got two jobs. We are to advance the gospel to the soul but we're also advance goodness to the suffering.

Now, there was an old term that was used back when, when I was in Cimbia, you may not have heard it before, but it was called the social gospel and there were people who came along and said, oh the gospel's not about seeing people saved. The gospel's not about Jesus dying on the cross and coming back from the dead, no that's not the gospel. The gospel's about feeding the poor, and the gospel's about eliminating racism and the gospel's about taking care of the hungry.

Well, let me just be very clear to you, I do not believe in the social gospel but I do believe the gospel ought to be sociable. Our primary responsibility should always be the salvation of the soul but God says it's also our job to give strength to the suffering, it is also our job to give food to the hungry, it is our job to give water to the thirsty, it is our job to give clothes to the naked, it is our job to give justice to the oppressed because once you've really experienced the grace of God, these are not things you have to do, these are not things people make you do, these are things that you want to do. Jesus did. He said, literally, he's literally said, I've come to seek and to save that which is lost, he said, my number one goal is I'm after the soul, I'm after the heart, I want to transform your life, I want to change you, I want to take you from darkness to light and from death to life, that's my number one goal but then he went on to say this.

I also want to bring good news to the poor. I want to proclaim release from the captive. Recovery of sight to the blind, I want to set the oppressed free. So Jesus preached the kingdom, but that's not all. What did Jesus do? If you were hungry, he fed you. If you were thirsty, he gave you water. If you were sick, he healed you. If you were hurting, he touched you. So with all of that in mind, we're in the book of Micah, chapter six, we're going to look at one verse, verse eight. What are we to do in the meantime? Till you and I go to heaven, what does God want us to do? Three simple things, you ready? Number one, we are to lead justly. We're to lead justly.

Now Micah begins this verse by asking the question of all questions, you ready? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good and what does the lord require of you? Great question. You're a teenager. You say you love the lord. You're in high school, you play football, you play basketball, you're a member of a club, you cheerlead. In the meantime, what does God require of you? You are a lawyer, a doctor, a ditch digger, a bus driver. In the meantime, what does God require of you? Because once you become a believer, you've got to ask that question so, here's the question. So how do you know you're living the life the way you ought to live it? How do you know you're doing what God wants you to do?

And by the way, how do you know he's pleased with the way you conduct your affairs, well, the first requirement sounds very simple but it's really profound, especially the day that we live. Right, here's the first thing God says. Act justly. So what does the lord require of you? Act justly. That word, for justice or justly, is found over 200 times in the old testament. And it's really simple, what is means is this. You treat people equitably. You treat people the way they deserve to be treated. You treat people the way you'd want them to treat you. And oh, by the way, you saw, you also advocate that people are treated justly. You also speak up for those who are not treated justly, for example, over Leviticus, we read this.

You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the lord your God. The word there, for the same law, believe it or not, is exactly the same word that Micah used for justice. In other words, here's what God said to Israel. I don't care if you've got people who are Israeli or they're not, maybe they came from a foreign country, maybe they're pagan, maybe they don't even believe that I exist, that's all right. You are to have the same law for everybody. Everybody's to be equally protected under the law. In other words, justice was to be blind to race. It was to be blind for social economic wealth. It was to be blind to your level of education, to your religion, justice shows no partiality.

Now, here's the problem. When we think about justice we think, okay, I know what you're saying, we need to give people what they deserve. And that is one aspect of justice, right? We are to make sure that people who do wrong are punished. But we tend to forget the other side of justice. And that is not just making sure that evil doers get punished, the other side of justice is that we are to make sure that the rights of people are protected. One of the greatest kings who ever lived wrote these words, his name was Solomon. He said, speak up and judge fairly, defend the rights of the poor and the needy. So justice is giving people what is fair. It may be punishment or it may be protection. It may be punishment or it may be provision, but it's treating everybody the same.

And by the way, every time you find this word, it's called, it's mishpat, that's the Hebrew word, mishpat. Four classes of people keep coming up, this will be worth coming to church for. Four classes of people always come up in the old testament when they talk about being just, watch this. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other. But they refused to pay attention. Stubbornly, they turned their backs and they covered their ears. Back in the day, these four groups of people, widows, orphans, immigrants, and poor people, they had no social power, they had no political influence, they had no financial strength, it's not much different than it is today. They basically lived at a substance, poverty level, meaning they were just days away from starvation at any time.

So today we might say that we need to make sure refugees have justice. And we need to make sure that people of all color have justice. And we need to make sure that single parents are treated justly. We need to make sure that elderly people are taken care of because, simply put, the measuring stick of goodness, whether your an individual or a nation, is whether you really care for, have concern for, and compassion for the least and for the lost, for the oppressed and the prisoner, for the poor and the immigrant. So some people may not like this but the truth of the matter is we don't have a choice as believers. We must be involved in the issues of poverty and unemployment and homelessness and hunger and racism and prostitution and sex slavery and abortion.

It's why I'm so very proud of our ministries, we're, we give food and clothing to the needy. We have a car pool, we have a ministry called feed on the street, we minister the homeless in downtown Atlanta. We go to several prisons around the area, visiting prisoners, preaching the gospel, offering words of encouragement, why do we do that? Because Jesus came to advocate for the least and for the lost, Jesus remembered who we tend to forget. Jesus focused on who we don't even pay attention to. Jesus helped people who he knew could never help him and what's amazing is this. When you read the old testament, if you were living back in old testament times, inversely, all of the ancient cultures of the world, the power of the false God, you know who that identified with?

They did not identify with the outcast. They did not identify with the widows and the orphans and the aliens, you know who they false God identified with? With the kings and the elites and the people in political power and then generals of the army and the wealthy. But then the God of Israel came along and this is what blew everybody's mind about the God that Israel worshiped. Because the God that Israel worshiped said, you know who I identify with? I identify with the orphan. I identify with the alien. I identify with the refugee. I identify with the women. I identify with the widows. I identify with the poor. Because like every other false God that pagan worship, the big true God of Israel was a God, was a God on the side of the powerless. He was the God on the side of the poor and we should be too, we should be as well.

Now again, I want to make this plain. Our number one goal, our number one job, our number one responsibility is to evangelize. We're to spread the gospel, we're to tell people about Jesus, that's always our number one mission. But we are not only just to seek the sheep that are lost, we also need to minister to the Samaritan on the side of the road.

We are to lead justly. That's requirement one. Here's the second thing God requires. We're to love mercy. We lead justly, but we love mercy. The first one describes our actions, the second one describes our affection, listen to what he says. He says, I want you to act to act justly and then he says to love mercy, it's really strange. He didn't say be merciful. He says, I want you to love mercy, I want you to adore mercy, I want you to shower mercy with your affection.

And we're... so what does that mean? It means we not only love to give mercy, we love it when other people get mercy. By the way, justice and mercy go together. Cause you might think at first, well you've already talked about two different things, there's really a big difference between justice and mercy but they're really not. Because the word for mercy refers to God's own unconditional grace, God's own compassion to you and to me. Justice refers to the action, that's what we do. Mercy refers to the action, the affection behind the action. You know why I want other people to be treated justly? Cause I love mercy and I want justice to be a merciful justice, I want people to be treated justly cause I have a merciful love for them. And by the way, the Hebrew word for mercy is the word chesed, beautiful word. Used over 250 times in the old testament.

One English word alone can't really translate, sometimes it's called mercy, sometimes it's called love, sometimes it's called kindness, most of the time it's called loving kindness. Now let's just be real honest, we're going to really get down to brass tags. When we do something wrong to somebody else, you know what we want? We want mercy. But when somebody does something wrong to us, you know what we want? We don't want mercy, we want justice. God says, no no no no no, that's not the way it works. Justice is when you give people what they deserve, we like that. Mercy is when you don't give people what they do deserve, we don't like that. And grace is when you give people what they don't deserve, we don't like that either.

So mercy is when you give people what you do, when you don't give people what they do deserve and we say I don't like that, what Micah's saying is look, our first inclination is, when somebody does us wrong we want justice. But if we do somebody else wrong we want mercy and what, what Micah's saying is this. Well what a difference this would make in our society. He said, when people do you wrong, instead of trying to cut them up, why don't you cut them some slack? Because the bottom line is this. When you love mercy, you will live mercy. When you love mercy, you will live mercy.

See, giving, what you say, well why is living mercy and why is giving mercy so important? Let me tell you how to learn this. If you're not a merciful person, and some of us are not, some of us are a little bit hard. If you're not a merciful person, I promise you two things will be true about you and your life, you mark it down. You will be a judgemental person and you will be a bitter person. If you don't care, mercy's just not my gift, I promise you, you will be a judgemental person, you will be a bitter person because I don't know why but there's something liberating, there's something that's freeing when you treat the lowest and the littlest and the least with kindness and with mercy.

There was a mother that went to Napoleon. He son had committed a second offense and it was worthy of death. Justice demanded his death. So the mother went to Napoleon. She said sire, I'm not asking for justice for my son, I'm pleading for mercy. And Napoleon replied, but he doesn't deserve mercy. And the mother said, yes sir, you're right, but it wouldn't be mercy if he deserved it and mercy is all I'm asking. And Napoleon replied that I will show mercy. It's hard because you don't want to give people what they don't deserve. That's mercy. So yes, let's punish the evil doers, for sure, let's confront wrong and evil wherever we find it, but what he's saying is, whenever we can, wherever we can, however we can, let's show mercy enough to love it and let's show mercy enough to show it.

I can tell you as a pastor, I don't guess anybody in the world needs mercy more than a pastor. Cause I got a bullseye on my back. I'm a public figure and I make mistakes. And there are things in my ministry I wish I could do over. But I cannot tell you the number of times I've been so grateful for the people in the churches I've pastored that love me enough to cut me some slack, show me some mercy, let me learn from my mistakes, knowing I'll use it to be a better man and a better person. We are to lead justly, we are to love mercy. But then he says this, and this is the big key. We're to live humbly. We're to live humbly.

Now here's the last requirement, what did he say? Is this what God requires of you? Act justly, check. Love mercy, check. But then he says, watch this, walk humbly with your God. Walk humbly with your God. I'm not going to call any names, but I've told people this before, there's nothing that gets under my skin more than big shot preachers. I wouldn't call names but I'm thinking of some right now. I've known some of these superstar preachers, they could strut sitting down. Micah said, walk humbly with your God. See, if you leave God out of this equation, none of this is going to work, okay. This is not what's required of you to be saved or to be right with God, that's not what he's saying. What he's saying is this is proof you are saved, this is proof you are right with God.

If you are saved and you are right with God you will love justice, you will lead justly. You will love mercy, you will live humbly. Cause you won't love mercy till you personally experience the mercy of God. You can't know justice till you've been justified by the judge of the universe. And you cannot walk humbly with your God until you first walk to God and surrender your life to him. So what is he talking about? This is not what you got to do in order to be saved, this is what you do if you have been saved and after you've been saved. By the way, the word walk in the bible is a metaphor for just the way you live your life, and you see, he says we're to walk humbly, let me just be honest with you. That's a tricky thing. One of the most difficult things to do in life is to be humble.

Now let me tell you why. The moment you think you're humble, you're not. I mean, the moment you say, you know, I am so proud of my humility. You just lost it. It's really kind of an amazing thing. Because humility begins with realizing this, here's how you get humble with God. Once you wake up and realize anything you are, anything you do, anything you have, anything you achieve in this life is all because of the grace of God, and when that finally hits you, then you begin to walk humbly with the God that you know and the God that you love and you finally realize, you know what lord, anything I ever do that's worth anything is because you live in me, you work for me, and I walk with you.

I love this story, I came across this story. It was a story of a CEO of a fortune 500 company and they pulled into a service station, he was filling his car up with gas. He went inside to get something to drink and when he came out he noticed his wife was talking with a guy that worked at the service station. Well it turned out that she not only knew this guy back in high school, that she used to date this guy, they went steady, in fact they almost got married. So they got in the car and they drove off and the CEO's kind of feeling pretty good and he said, you know I, I bet I know what you were thinking. She says, what's that? He says, I bet you were thinking you were glad you married me, a fortune 500 CEO and not some guy that works at a service station. She said no, actually I was thinking if I'd have married him he'd be the fortune 500 guy and you'd be working at a service station.

Now, you see, real humility comes from understanding who you are in relation to who God is. Because when you walk with the God of the universe you realize, I'd be nothing without him. I'd be lost without him. I'd be undone without him. I'd be helpless without him. And pride would never become a problem, and while I'm in the neighborhood, let me tell you something. If you were to ask me right now, pastor, I know you don't like to talk politics, get into politics, but let me just ask you a question. What do you think is the number one thing wrong with America today? I can tell you in one word, pride. Pride. We have been told and you have been told. We think two things can solve all our problems. We think education can solve our problems and legislation can solve our problems, that's what we've been told. Education and legislation can solve our problems. And if we'll just educate right and legislate right, we'll act justly, we'll love mercy, and we don't even have to know God at all.

Now let me just make something very plain, I believe in good education, I believe in good legislation. But education will not make anybody merciful, just and good, and legislation won't do it either. And don't take my word for it. Martin Luther King said this. Morality can't be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrict the heartless. The law cannot make an employer love me, but it can keep him from refusing to hire me because of the color of my skin. He's exactly right. Education can help you on the outside. Legislation can help you on the outside. It can't do anything on the inside, but Micah said, when you know the judge who justifies, you'll act justly. When you've experienced the mercy of a compassionate God, you will love mercy, and here's what he said. When you act justly and you love mercy, you'll know the reason you do is because you walk humbly with the lord your God.

So I want to close with this. I don't know if you guys over here, you high school kids, I don't know if you've ever heard of the guy or not, but if not you need to know who he is. One of my heroes, I think one of the greatest Americans who ever lived. Ought to be in the whole world, all American hall of fame. He was an African American. His name was Booker T. Washington. How many of you have ever heard of Booker T. Washington? All right, if you haven't heard of him, let me just say this in love, shame on you. You go home today guys, you go home today and you go google Booker T. Washington. Absolutely one of the, am I right Melvin? Absolutely one of the greatest men who ever set foot in this country.

If you're a parent, teach your kids about Booker T. Washington. If you're a grandparents, teach your grandkids about Booker T. Washington. One of the most famous black men in America, he was, at the time when he lived, he was one of the most famous black men in America. What that meant back in the day, the system kept black people down. They showed them their place. But he was one of the few men, you couldn't keep him down. He was just that cream that just rised, rose to the top, and when very few black people achieved notoriety due to a rigged system, I mean this man, for 25 years, he was the dominant black voice in America. But that's not what him great. What made him great was he was a passionate follower of Jesus. He was passionately in love with Jesus.

Let me tell you about this man. He once shared tea with the queen of England, this was back in the 1890s, a black man. He shared tea with the queen of England. He was the first black man ever to be invited to dine with the president at the White House. It was Theodore Roosevelt. And Roosevelt perhaps paid him the highest compliment that can ever be paid. When they got up at the dinner where they were having dinner, President Roosevelt got up and here's what he said about Booker T. Washington. Of any man I've ever met, Booker T. Washington has lived up to Micah's verse, what more does the lord require of you than to do justice, love mercily and walk humbly with your God? Well one incident may explain why he said that about this great man.

I want you to listen to this. Booker T. Washington was in Des Moines, Iowa, and he was speaking to standing room only crowds at six different churches. That night, he spoke at an opera house where it was standing room only and everybody in town knew who he was. He was the talk of the town. Well that evening he was in the lobby of the hotel where he was staying and a woman came up to him and just assumed he worked at the hotel. She didn't know who he was but she just assumed, because he was a black man, well you must be a bellman or an employee. She asked him for a glass of water.

Now here's what we would've been tempted to do. With all respect, do you know who I am? Do you know who you're talking to? But listen to this, when she asked him for a glass of water, instead of identifying who he was, he went and got her a glass of water. But that's not where he stopped. He handed her the glass of water and then he said, ma'am, is there anything else I can do for you? What a man, what a big man, what a great man! You know why? He didn't pull rank, he didn't say look who I am, he didn't say, instead of asking me for a glass of water, you ought to be asking for my autograph. He was a man that walked so humbly with his God, he just said ma'am, is there anything else I can do for you?

That's what I want to be like. And I'm nowhere near the man Booker T. Washington was but here's what I want to close with. In the end, you know what this verse points to? If you know anything about the bible, you know, you know who this verse really points to, can somebody guess? Jesus. Say, what do you mean, Jesus? Think about it. Knowing that justice demanded payment for the penalty of our sins, even though he never sinned, he died for our sins, he acted justly. And then when he was on the cross, when all those people out there that were spitting on him and cursing him and beat him and nailed him to that cross, instead of giving him what he deserved, what did he say? Father forgive them.

They don't even know what they're doing. He loved mercy. And in that same Jesus, the night before he was crucified, the night before he knew every disciple would turn tale and run, what did he do? He got on his knees and he washed their feet. He walked humbly with his God. So Micah 6:8's not just a requirement, it is a recipe to live the best life you will ever live, the happiest life you will ever know, and the greatest life you will ever achieve because when you lead justly and you love mercy and you live humbly, you're doing what you need to be doing in the meantime.

Let's pray together. With heads bowed and with eyes closed. I don't know who I'm talking to today, to a camera or in a building, I don't know. But I will tell you this. If you don't know where you really are with God, look at those three things in your life. Do you lead justly? Is justice important to you, is it a big deal? Oh by the way, even if people accuse you of being woke, if that's what it means to be woke, I'm woke. Do you love justice? Do you cry out for justice? Do you want to see justice done everywhere for everybody? Do you love mercy? Or do you ride a high horse everyday looking down on other people, seeing who you can condemn and who you can criticize? And then, do you just walk humbly with your God? Humbling yourself before him, and yes, humbling yourself before other people, do you just do that? It won't come naturally, it comes supernaturally. It won't come until you know Jesus.

If you've never trusted in Jesus, today is your lord and savoir, I just want to give you the chance to do that. I want to give you the chance to know how to do what you need to do and what you need to do in the meantime. So if you've never trusted Christ, if you're a teenager, maybe you're a single adult, maybe you're a senior adult, but you've never really given your life to Christ but you've heard enough today to say, now that's still the kind of life I want to live, that's me, I want to love justice, I want to lead justly, I want to love mercy, and I want to live humbly. Then pray this right now, just say:

Lord Jesus, I can't live that life without you, it's impossible. But you can live that life through me. I believe you died for my sins, I believe God raised you from the dead, I believe you're alive right now. Come into my heart, save me, forgive me. I repent and turn away from my sin, and by the way, I repent and turn away from bad attitudes I've had toward other people. I ask you to change me from the inside out. Forgive me of my sins. I receive your gift of eternal life.

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