Devotional on John

2014 – Riding the Anacortes Ferry to Friday Harbor, WA

No shallow water here

John 1: The Word was God.

Intentionally paralleling the opening words of Genesis John begins his gospel with poetry. In the first words of the Bible I’m told that God “spoke” the world into existence. “God said…and there was.” Now, I’m told that in recent days God has spoken again. This time, not creating a new world but, rather, creating salvation. This time, God has spoken in a man and that man is the Word of God. Everything I need to know about salvation, everything necessary for salvation is accomplished in the living Word of God. The One John introduces here is more than just a man speaking God’s words. He is, in man, God, himself. This, my friend, is a huge concept that can’t be explained in one short devotional paragraph. It can, though, be summed up in a sentence: “the Word was God.”

Take Away: To know Jesus is to know God. To know Jesus is to know Salvation.

Devotional on John

2014 – Riding the Anacortes Ferry to Friday Harbor, WA

Awe, Mom, not yet!

John 2: This isn’t my time. Don’t push me.

Jesus begins his public ministry, calling disciples and preparing for all that’s to come. However, there are also some family concerns. For one thing, there’s a wedding invitation for him and his new disciples. Apparently, the groom is a relative of Jesus and not only is Jesus there but so is his mother. The banquet is a big deal and when the wine starts to run low the groom and his family are in jeopardy of losing face because of it. It’s their job to provide the refreshments and to run out of wine is unthinkable. Mary, the mother of Jesus, realizes what’s going on and turns to her son, telling him to take care of it. Jesus declines to help, saying, “Mother, this really isn’t any of our business and I need to keep a low profile right now.” His response flows off his Jewish mother like water off a duck’s back. In fact, she doesn’t even respond to her Son. Instead, she looks to the nearby servants and says, “Do whatever he tells you to do.” With that, she walks off, returning to the wedding party. Jesus is, of course Lord: King of kings. He’s also his mother’s Son. If there’s a passage that illustrates the humanity of this God-man I think it’s this one. He’s not ready to start working miracles, but if that’s what his mom wants, well, he’ll do it for her. Aside from this being the inspiration for a Mother’s Day sermon that’s bound to get rave reviews from all the moms in attendance I don’t know what to do with this observation. Still, I think it adds a whole new dimension to the story.

Take Away: It’s important to remember the humanity of Jesus.

Devotional on John

2014 – Anacortes, WA

Yielding center stage to Jesus

John 3: This is the assigned moment for him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines.

John the Baptist blazed to prominence in the land like a shooting star that, seemingly out of nowhere, lights the sky and draws the attention of everyone. Now, like a shooting star, he’s just as quickly fading from the scene as all attention is focused on a new “Sun” rising, shedding light, not just for a passing moment but for all time. John’s disciples are defensive about this. They believe in and support him and they don’t like it that his role is diminishing as Jesus is drawing more and more attention. For John, though, this is exactly how it should be. As he said when he introduced Jesus, Jesus is vastly superior to himself. As Jesus moves into the limelight John happily stands off on the sidelines cheering him on. I think there’s a spiritual parallel to this in the lives of those on the Christian journey. Once I acknowledge Jesus as the Savior of the world and as my personal Savior, it quickly becomes apparent that this Savior is also King of kings and Lord of lords. I understand that I need to stop being the center of my universe so that he can move to his rightful place as Lord of my life. I must decrease that he might increase.

Take Away: The only proper place for Jesus is sitting on the throne of my life.

Devotional on John

2014 – Riding the Anacortes Ferry to Friday Harbor, WA

Rubbing shoulders with the “untouchables”

John 4: Open your eyes and take a good look at what’s right in front of you.

The disciples go into Sychar to buy some lunch. As good Jews they’re uncomfortable dealing with the Samaritans, but they steel themselves for the task, do what has to be done as quickly as possible and return to Jesus who, in their opinion, has wisely waited outside of town. To their surprise, they find him in conversation with one of “them” and a woman at that! Shortly (at least in my imagination) these disciples will squirm and nearly run away as the whole town of Samaritans surrounds them, pressing in on every side. This will be the first small break in their separatist views that will be broken wide open by Paul’s ministry some years later. Jesus describes this Samaritan village, not as a necessary evil, but instead, as a field ready for the Kingdom harvest. In the church we often pray that the Lord will help us find spiritually hungry people to whom we can minister the Good News of the gospel. Is there a chance that we’re like the disciples at this point? Are we overlooking the possibilities right next door? Are there people we carefully avoid who Jesus views as “fields white unto harvest?” Would the Lord have us (me) rub shoulders with some of these “untouchables?” I need to spend more time in this passage.

Take Away: If I’ll just open my eyes I might see some surprising spiritual realities.

Devotional on John

2014 – Anacortes, WA

Bible studies and prayer meetings

John 5: These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you.

It all starts when Jesus heals a lame man with the order to pick up his bed roll and walk. The wonderful miracle is lost on the religious leaders because it takes place on the Sabbath. Never mind the miracle, they insist, what’s this about telling people to carry things on the Sabbath? Pitiful, isn’t it. When these leaders angrily challenge Jesus he does nothing to calm them down. Rather, he identifies himself with his Heavenly Father and claims his support and direction in all he does. How in the world do they think they can win an argument with the man who just worked a miracle? Jesus moves on to point out that they, Bible scholars that they are, know all about what the Scriptures say about the Messiah. He tells them it’s time to get their heads out of their Bibles and look in the eye the one testified about by those very Scriptures. Silly religious leaders! They’ve given their lives to knowing God’s Word and have now missed the Living Word of God standing right in front of them. How could they ever think that Bible study is better than fellowship with the Lord who is right there with them? I’m glad we Christians today know better. We’d rather spend five minutes in the literal presence of the Lord than an hour of debating some obscure term from the Bible. Right? I know, I know, there’s a place for both. Still, I can’t help but note that Bible studies are generally better attended than prayer meetings.

Take Away: It’s better, if one must decide between the two, to know Jesus than to know the Bible. Happily, we don’t have to decide.

Devotional on John

2014 – Anacortes, WA

Faith stretcher

John 6: He said this to stretch Philip’s faith. He already knew what he was going to do.

Those living around the Sea of Galilee are going crazy for Jesus. They follow him from place to place and when he isn’t around he’s the topic of conversation. Jesus is a celebrity. When Jesus sets up shop on a grassy hillside near the lake, the crowd swells to thousands. It’s at this point that Jesus calls Philip over to ask him where they can buy food to feed this huge number of people. Philip, practical to the core, quickly does the math, responding to Jesus that even if there was a bakery nearby that there’s no way that they can buy enough bread for this crowd. In an aside, the gospel writer tells us that the Lord already has a plan and that they only reason he asks this question to Philip is for Philip’s own benefit. Philip, though, at least at first, misses the lesson altogether. He quickly estimates the size of the crowd, considers the cost of bread, and comes up with a figure of 200 silver pieces which, rather being enough to pay the cost of actually feeding the people, would at least give them a bite to eat before going home. Apparently, Philip is a fine bean counter. He’d probably have been a better choice for treasurer than Judas! Still, Jesus knows what he’s doing. He knows that Philip is a practical person and that he needs to learn to trust the Lord to meet needs beyond his resources. Know what? I think I’m Philip and maybe you are too. I’ve sat in church board meetings in which the first response to everything wasn’t “Do you think this is what the Lord wants us to do?” but, instead was, “Can we afford it?” Philip needed to have his faith stretched. We practical people do too.

Take Away: We need to be people of faith first.

Devotional on John

2014 – Anacortes, WA

Thirsty?

John 7: If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.

One of the big events in Jewish life in this day is the feast of the Tabernacles. Everyone moves outdoors for the event, camping out, and there are special worship activities at the Temple each day. Jesus is here, teaching at the Temple and many believe he’s the Messiah. On this last day, as the priest pours water mixed with wine on the altar Jesus shouts out: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” Jesus offers to all who will come what’s being symbolized at the altar. What an offer it is. To the weary one who has been worn down by their journey in life he offers himself as the Living Water. To the bruised one who has tried other things that promised satisfaction only to be disappointed and scarred by their effort Jesus calls out “Come to me.” To those hurting, confused, and broken Jesus offers healing, understanding, and wholeness. To you and me Jesus extends the invitation to come and be satisfied.

Take Away: The only one who can really satisfy our lives invites us to come and receive what only he can give us.

Devotional on John

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park

The power of the cross

John 8: When he put it in these terms, many people decided to believe.

The debate concerns the relationship of Jesus to his Father. His enemies listen for any misstatement, any slip of the tongue of our Lord, that they might pounce and score some debate points. Jesus tells them that they need to open their minds and stop thinking in such a small, earthly scale. Meanwhile, others are listening, considering and trying to decide for themselves about Jesus. Finally, Jesus says to his enemies, “When you raise me up, then you’ll know who I am.” The “raise me up” phrase is crystal clear to his listeners. Jesus is talking about crucifixion. In this culture, to be “raised up” is a very bad thing. Even as his enemies prepare for more debate and the crowd tries to digest what Jesus is saying, he continues. When he is “raised up,” as bad as that is, his Father won’t abandon him. Even to crucifixion Jesus will take joy in pleasing his Father. At this point, many in the crowd are convinced. If Jesus is willing to obey his Father even to a cross, and if he believes that even at such a terrible moment the Father will be faithful to him, they will believe in him. Such confidence and such a level of commitment is compelling. Once in a while I happen upon some profane, blasphemous use of the cross. The enemies of Christ are still among us and they think that the cross is silly or proof of weakness and defeat. For many, though, it’s convincing and compelling. In this passage, even before Jesus actually goes to the cross, it’s the cross that convinces them to follow. Never question the power of the cross.

Take Away: The cross convinces us of Christ and his ability to transform our lives.

Devotional on John

2014 – Anacortes, WA

Journey to sight

John 9: “Master, I believe,” the man said, and worshiped him.

His journey to physical sight contained multiple steps. He began the day blind, listening to a conversation between Jesus and his disciples about himself and his pitiful condition. Then, Jesus turns his full attention to himself. The Lord takes common dirt, spits in it to make a sort of mud plaster, and sends him to “Sent Pool” to wash. He obeys and he sees! Now, he finds himself at the heart of an inquiry being conducted by the religious leaders. In amazing callousness they’re more interested in the fact that the healing took place on the Sabbath than they are in the healing itself. When the once blind man is asked about his healer, he says he is a man named Jesus. Later on, he’s had time to think about what has happened, and when he’s asked a second time about his healer, he upgrades him from merely being a man who made mud to proclaiming him to be a prophet of God. Then, when he’s pressed on the issue yet again, he decides his healer ought to have disciples, that he’s a man from God. Finally, when he literally sees Jesus for the first time at their second meeting, he worships him. His journey to spiritual sight has taken multiple steps and he’s now ready to worship. Obviously, this spiritual journey is extraordinary. Still, in this story we’re reminded that people come to the Lord step by step. Who knows? My part in someone’s journey might simply be to direct them down the block to “Sent Pool.” Someone else will help them at other key points of their spiritual journey.

Take Away: Clearly, there is a crisis point in which people declare Jesus as “Master” in their life, but there are also plenty of other less dramatic points in that journey too.

Devotional on John

2014 – Anacortes, WA Waterfront Festival – snagboat

He measures up

John 10: Everything he said about this man has come true.

The situation with the religious leaders in Jerusalem is about to come to a full boil so Jesus withdraws, out of their reach before making one last trip to that city. He returns to where his ministry began, out in the wilderness along River Jordan. It was here that John the Baptizer introduced Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior of the world. In ways similar to what happened in his earlier ministry in Galilee, people are drawn to Jesus and now they come in droves. In this setting the crowds can’t help but remember John’s glowing predictions concerning Jesus, made right here just a few years earlier. They conclude that John nailed it. Jesus is everything John said he would be. There’s something powerful about telling people about Jesus. Even as we make our pitifully inadequate effort to tell the story it’s Spirit-powered. Then, the moment our hearer looks toward Jesus something begins to happen in their lives. As it was with John, our role instantly begins to shrink and the role of Jesus begins to expand in their lives. Still, it’s deeply gratifying, yet humbling at the same time, when someone takes a moment to glance back our way and comment, “That’s the person who first told me about Jesus.” I want to do a better job of pointing the way to all who will listen.

Take away: There’s something powerful about telling people about Jesus.

Devotional on John

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park

Its Jesus verses death

John 11: Lazarus, come out!

I’ve heard it said that Jesus specified that Lazarus “come out” of the grave because, had he just given the command to “come out” that there would have been a general resurrection. Personally, I think that’s more of a poetical take on this remarkable event than a realistic one. Still, I understand the statement of faith in that concept. This is an act of absolute authority over death. Jesus doesn’t even touch the dead body. He, in fact, never enters the tomb. From outside, after a public prayer, Jesus merely shouts out the command and Lazarus is resurrected. I can’t imagine any more powerful demonstration of authority over death than this one. Well, almost. Soon, an even more convincing event will take place. For now though, I’m happy to be reminded of this wonderful truth. Any time Jesus faces death, Jesus wins. Glory!

Take Away: One hope of all Christians is the hope of life after death.

Devotional on John

2014 – La Conner, WA

The slam of the door of the Ark

John 12: First they wouldn’t believe, then they couldn’t.

John begins his countdown to crucifixion with a summary of Jesus’ relationship with the religious leaders of the day. Our Lord has spent considerable time with them and while those exchanges weren’t necessarily friendly, they were convincing. These men thrive on debate and Jesus gives them more debate than they want: winning the argument each time. He also proves his words by his deeds. On this very day Jesus is dining with Lazarus, the man Jesus called forth from the grave. At first, the leaders investigated Jesus and his miracles. At some point they saw the truth: that the miracles were real, confirming his identity. The problem is that Jesus isn’t one of them. In fact, he’s a nobody from an unimportant place. Surely, the Messiah will be an “insider” and not an “outsider” as is Jesus. They held back, at first, sure that they’d find a flaw in all this that would prove them right. When that flaw wasn’t found they hardened their position. Now, we find that they’re locked in to it. God has allowed them to be the unbelievers they choose to be all along. In this, the Lord didn’t have to shut them out. Rather, he let them be where they wanted to be all along. As I think about this, I hear the slam of the door of the Ark way back in the book of Genesis. I see the thousands of Israelites being marched off into captivity. I fear I see a future Day of Judgment in which people who would not believe are allowed to spend an eternity in that unbelief, apart from God and hope. It’s serious business to refuse to believe.

Take Away: Belief is a matter of the will.

Devotional on John

2014 – La Conner, WA

Peter, stop arguing!

John 13: Why can’t I follow now?

It’s Thursday night before Jesus is arrested. He and his disciples are in the Upper Room and Jesus is in the role of servant, washing their feet. He comes to Peter, but Peter resists, declaring “You’re not going to wash my feet – ever!” Jesus, though, persists telling Peter that if he won’t allow this that he’ll have no part in what Jesus has come to do. Peter decides to give in, but if that’s how it is, he has a better idea. He wants Jesus to wash his hands and head as well. Once again, our Lord holds steady, explaining that it’s foot washing that Peter needs and it’s foot washing that he’s going to get. Then, the meal ended, Jesus tenderly commands his disciples to love one another. This, he says, will be their primary, distinguishing characteristic. As Jesus is stating these words, Peter’s focus is on what Jesus said earlier. He ignores the teaching concerning mutual love and wants to know where Jesus is going. The Lord patiently responds, telling Peter that someday he’ll follow but not right now. Peter is having none of that. “Why later? Why not now?” he demands. Then he adds, “I’ll lay down my life for you.” At this point, Jesus has had enough of Peter’s approach. Even as he declares his allegiance to the Lord his responses are always that he knows better than Jesus. At this point Jesus tells him that big time failure is coming to him, and soon. I don’t know whether to smile at Peter’s “Lord, I love you but I know better than you” approach or if I should wince and remember the times I’ve blundered ahead of the Lord thinking I knew what to do without asking him. How often do my actions betray the truth that I think I know better than God?

Take Away: A part of following Jesus is admitting that he’s smarter than we are.

Devotional on John

2014 – La Conner, WA

Don’t leave home without it

John 14: Whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it.

Some of the most empowering words ever spoken are those of our Lord as he prepares his disciples for the soon coming events in these closing days of his earthly ministry. The clock is ticking and soon their world will be rocked in ways they can’t imagine. Still, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. As a result of all that’s coming they’ll do even greater things than what they’ve seen Jesus do. I think Jesus is speaking to them as a cooperate group and not as individuals. They won’t all go out and be messiahs in the world, but together, as the Church, they’ll transform the world in the Name of Jesus. They won’t be alone in their task. Jesus is sending the Holy Spirit, his Spirit, who’ll not only be with them but will be in them, empowering them to do his work. When they run up against impossible situations that threaten to stop them from carrying on his work, all they’ll need to do is call out to him and he’ll make the impossible possible for them. This “asking in Jesus’ Name” isn’t an open credit card that they can use for doing anything they want. Rather, this is all about ministry empowerment. Jesus wants them to carry on his work in this world, bringing the Good News of the Gospel to every nation. He promises them power for the task and he tells them that he’ll never be more than a prayer away. This may not be an all-purpose “credit card” but it is, I think, a mighty fine “Master’s Card” that I need to use more often.

Take Away: Jesus has provided us exactly what we need to do his work in this world.

Devotional on John

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park

Love and hate

John 15: Make yourselves at home in my love.

On this night prior to the crucifixion Jesus talks to his disciples in terms of love and hate. He warns them that the same people who hate him will hate them. That hate won’t be about them as much as it will be about Jesus. His disciples will be so much like their Lord that those who hated him without cause will hate them without cause. Jesus also encourages them to be “at home” in his love. What an interesting phrase. To be at home is to feel secure and comfortable. It’s to be with family and friends, giving support and receiving the same. Jesus tells his followers to enjoy that kind of comfort in his love. He’s committed to love us even though he already knows our weaknesses and failings. While it’s true that I stand amazed in his love it’s also true that I have every reason to depend on it and to relax in it. So, there you have it. Out in the world we’re strangers, treated unfairly by people who don’t even know why it is that they don’t like us. On the other hand, we’re upheld by the undeserved, beyond-understanding love of Christ. All in all, it’s a pretty good situation.

Take Away: I want to be comfortable in the love of Christ.

Devotional on John

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park

Loved by God

John 16: The Father loves you directly.

Jesus has prayed for his disciples and he’s going to pray for them again. In fact, his great High Priestly prayer is about to begin. Still, he encourages his disciples to “make your requests directly to him” promising that the Father is ready and willing to hear and answer their prayers. The reason for this is because of their relationship with Jesus. Three years earlier they met Jesus. Some were out in the wilderness where John was baptizing; others were in Galilee as they went about their daily activities. They’ve now followed him for three years and during that time they’ve come to believe Jesus is the Son of God. In these final hours before everything changes, Jesus tells his disciples that the Father is quite pleased with them for believing in his Son. They’ve left all to follow him and they’ve loved Jesus and trusted in him and, because of that, their relationship with the Heavenly Father has changed in a wonderful way. From now on, when they pray to the Father, they’re authorized by the Father, himself, to pray in the Name of Jesus. They’ve loved Jesus, and now, the Father loves them all the more for it and they’re about to reap the benefits of being people who please the Father. I’m nothing close to equal to Peter or James or John, but I have this in common with them: I too love, trust, and follow Jesus. Because of that, in spite of my unworthiness and failure to really understand all that it means to me, I have the assurance that the Father “loves me directly.” I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I’ve had just a taste of it and what I’ve tasted is very good.

Take Away: It’s a powerful thing to be a person with whom the Father is pleased.

Devotional on John

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park

Listening to Jesus pray

John 17: Father, it’s time.

This great prayer of Jesus has three parts. The first section concerns our Lord’s relationship with his Father. All that has happened and will happen is done for the purpose of displaying the glory of God, a glory shared by Father and Son; a glory that has existed since before the world began. Second, Jesus prays for his disciples. He’s going to depart, but they’re going to stay. His purpose of bringing glory to the Father will now be their purpose. Jesus prays that everything about his disciples will accomplish that purpose and that they’ll be protected from all that might distract from their mission. Third, Jesus prays for future believers. Again, there’s a prayer for unity of heart and purpose. Our Lord prays that the believers will give evidence that Jesus is the one sent from God because of his love for us. Jesus concludes his prayer by asking the Father to gather all believers to himself, where they can bask in the glory of the Lord, united in love for God and for one another. This passage, my friend, is holy ground. We’re allowed to listen in to a conversation within the Godhead. We witness the Son’s communion with the Father and then, we’re invited into the conversation. It’s humbling to be allowed in this place today.

Take Away: God’s people are considered “insiders.” What an honor!

Devotional on John

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park

With friends like us….

John 18: Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?

When they come to arrest Jesus Peter takes matters in his own hands, attempting to defend Jesus with a sword. However, being a fisherman and not a swordsman, Peter takes a swing at the wrong person (a mere servant) and tries to take his head off (but misses). He ends up cutting off his ear instead. Luke tells us that Jesus performs a miracle, reattaching the ear. He also tells Peter that in his Kingdom sword play isn’t allowed. Now, as Jesus is being tried Peter warms himself by the fire in the courtyard but people keep suggesting that he might be one of the disciples of Jesus. Peter denies it, but one man is quite sure. In fact, he’s a relative of poor Malchus who, just a short time earlier, was on the receiving end of Peter’s sword. Obviously, it’s in Peter’s best interest for this man to not know he’s the “ear-cutter-off-er”! I don’t know whether or not this man knows the rest of the story, what Jesus did for Malchus and what he told Peter, but I can’t help but think his opinion of Jesus and his followers isn’t all that high right now. “Oh yeah, I know about followers of Jesus, they pretend to be all spiritual and holy but I had one try to cut off my head one time.” Sad to say there are a lot of Christian sword swingers out there. They go about saying and doing mean things, hurting feelings, and acting downright hateful; all in the “Name of Jesus.” They think they’re doing something good for the Lord but all they’re doing is alienating people and slandering the Name of the One they think they’re serving.

Take Away: Sword play isn’t allowed in the Kingdom of God.

Devotional on John

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park

At Gabbatha

John 19: He sat down at the judgment seat.

Pilate doesn’t want to crucify Jesus. In fact, he wants nothing to do with him. His brief encounter with Jesus has been disturbing and dissatisfying. He senses that this isn’t just another internal squabble among the Jews. Something more is going on here. The accused man has self-confidence and something even more that Pilate can’t quite put his finger on. This business of his being “King of the Jews” somehow resonates. The Jews are using this to force his hand. After all, no Roman governor wants it reported to Caesar that he tolerates locals claiming to be kings. Finally he has Jesus brought to Gabbatha, and takes his place on the seat of judgment. He wants to get this distasteful business over with and to get on with his morning’s responsibilities. Pilate sits on the judgment seat and Jesus stands before him. He condemns Jesus to death. It’s the world turned upside down and it’s a situation that will be rectified on Judgment Day. On that day it will be King Jesus sitting on the judgment seat and it will be Pilate who will stand before him. No doubt, his part in the injustice of this distant day will be very much in play at that time. Of course, this scene doesn’t only concern Pilate. I too will have my turn at Gabbatha. My only hope is to right now make the Judge also my Savior.

Take Away: Now is the time to prepare for my Day of Judgment.

Devotional on John

2014 – Mt Rainier National Park

Holy Breath

John 20: He took a deep breath and breathed into them.

The story of the resurrection rightfully dominates the passage. If we don’t quite grasp some of the other things here it’s okay as long as we get that. Still, it’s worthwhile to slow down and, once we’ve freshly soaked in the power of the resurrection and look around a bit. Here we are, still in that first Easter and Jesus arrives inside a locked room where the disciples are gathered. On his agenda is this “breathing into them” event. He connects it to their receiving the Holy Spirit, using the word that we translate “breath” or “Spirit” to describe the event. In this they’re being invited breathe the breath of God. This is obviously related to the opening pages of our Bibles in which the Lord God makes human beings and then breathes into them the breath of life. Now, following the resurrection, Jesus symbolically breaths into his disciples the spiritual Breath of Life, the Holy Spirit. As we know, in the not too distant future, the disciples, likely in this same room, will be filled with “Holy Breath” as the Spirit dramatically comes upon them. One of the results of the resurrection is the potential of God’s people being filled with the new spiritual empowerment of “Holy Breath.”

Take Away: “Breathe on me, Breath of God.”

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