Thursday, April 28, 2016

Honor your father and mother

Exodus 20 gives us the Ten Commandments God gave to the people of Israel. The fifth (Exodus 20:12) is about parents:
Exodus 20:12 “Honor your father and your mother: that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.”
God commanded the people of Israel to HONOR their father and mother. What does “honor your father and mother” mean? Here is how one commentator defines it:
“This was a plain command of God, written with his own hand, and delivered by Moses to them; it was of a moral nature, and of eternal obligation: and to be understood, not merely of that high esteem parents are to be had in by their children, and of the respectful language and gesture to be used towards them, and of the cheerful obedience to be yielded to them; but also of honoring them with their substance, feeding, clothing, and supplying them with the necessaries of life, when they stand in need thereof; which is but their reasonable service, for all the care, expense, and trouble they have been at, in bringing them up in the world.” (John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible, Dr. John Gill 1690-1771)
Honoring the parents involves high esteem, reverence and support. It means that you are there for them and you care for them with your service, support, money, visits etc.

Honoring your parents and promises associated with it.

In contrast to the other commandments, where no specific promise is attached directly to them, God, in giving this command He also added a specific promise. As He said, “honor your father and mother that your days may be long in the land that God gives you”. But He didn’t stop there. Deuteronomy 5:16 states the same commandment but with one additional promise attached to it:
Deuteronomy 5:16 Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you; that your days may be prolonged [promise 1], and that it may be well with you, in the land which the LORD your God is giving you[promise 2].”
Paul is repeating this commandment in Ephesians 6:2-3:
“Honor your father and mother," which is the first commandment with promise: that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”
Paul says that this is the “first commandment with promise”. The first commandment God gave and which contained a promise was the commandment of honoring our parents! And really what a promise! You will live long on the earth and it will be well with you! Do you want to live long on the earth? Do you want to be well with you? Well here it is for you: honor your parents and that’s what is going to happen!

Honoring the parents: the view of Jesus.

As in the case of other commandments, so also with honoring the parents, God says what would happen if somebody did not keep this commandment. Jesus summarized in Mark 7 both the commandment and what, according to this commandment, would happen if it was not kept:
Mark 7:10 "For Moses said, `Honor your father and your mother'; and, He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death."
The verb “curse” here is the Greek verb “kakologeo” which means “speak evil”. Whoever spoke evil against his father or mother was to be put to death.
To see an example of not honoring the parents, let’s continue in the above passage of Mark:
Mark 7:11-13 "But you say, `If a man says to his father or mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban"-' (that is, a gift to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do."
The word “Corban” is a Hebrew word that means a “gift offered to God”. It is this word that is used in Leviticus 1:2 for example, where it says:
Leviticus 1:2 “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: `When any one of you brings an offering [Korban] to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of the livestock-of the herd and of the flock.”
The word “offering” here is the word Korban that the Lord also used speaking of those Jews that didn’t honor their parents. In essence what these Jews were saying to their parents was “whatever you could benefit from me, my property, my income, is Corban i.e. dedicated to God and I cannot give it to you”. This was a vow they used to do to avoid giving to their parents. They made a vow dedicating everything to God, and therefore they could claim that they had nothing to support and therefore no obligation for such support towards their parents. As Barnes explains:
“If he had once devoted his property once said it was “Corban,” or a gift to God - it could not be appropriated even to the support of a parent. If a parent was needy and poor, and if he should apply to a son for assistance, and the son should reply, though in anger, “It is devoted to God; this property which you need, and by which you might be profited by me, is “Corban” - I have given it to God;” the Jews said the property could not be recalled, and the son was not under obligation to aid a parent with it. He had done a more important thing in giving it to God. The son was free. He could not be required to do anything for his father after that. Thus, he might, in a moment, free himself from the obligation to obey his father or mother» (Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Albert Barnes (1798-1870))
Our Lord Jesus Christ condemned the use of the excuse of “Corban” – offering to God - to avoid helping the parents. Obviously for him honoring the parents was something very important, as important as it was for God when it listed it in the 10 commandments.

Honoring your father and mother: Conclusion.

It is God’s command to honor our parents with all that this honor may include. The commandment of honoring our parents is the first commandment with promise and really what a promise: Live long on earth and be well with you! Most of the people wouldn’t want something more than this! Well, this is the promise. It is not unconditional though! It is conditional and it will be bestowed to those who honor their parents. The commandment of honoring our parents was so important that the one that would speak evil of his parents would die. Yes, today we live under the age of grace but the commandment of the Lord and His promise is there. And the challenge is there for us as well:
Ephesians 6:2-3 Honor your father and mother," which is the first commandment with promise: that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

John the Baptist. Notes.

Matthew 3

1Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
3For this is the one [John the Baptist] referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said,

4Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; 6and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.
      7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 

“Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; 9and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. 10The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 

      11As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. [the day of Pentecost] 

12“His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” [warning]

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The race, the fight and the warfare

In Hebrews 12:1-2 we read:
Hebrews 12:1-2
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of ourfaith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.”
We are called in this passage to run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and the finisher of our faith. The passage presents our Christian walk, our Christian life, as a race that we need to run:
1) with patience, and
2) looking unto Jesus, who is the author and finisher of our faith.
Paul in another place, in Philippians this time, speaks again about the race. There we read:
Philippians 3:12-14 
“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Paul didn’t count himself as already having attained the prize. Instead he was dismissing those things that were behind pressing toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. There was a goal to be attained, a prize to be received. Paul didn’t consider this prize as already received. Instead he focused his life to receive this prize. He was goal oriented with the goal being the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Paul speaks again about the race and the prize in I Corinthians 9:24-27. There we read:
I Corinthians 9:24-27
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prizeRun in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for animperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”
Paul was running a race aiming at an imperishable crown. His life was goal oriented and His goal was the imperishable crown to be received from the hands of the Lord. He wouldn’t allow anything else to interfere with this aim. He was not running with uncertainty. He knew His goal and He was sure for the prize waiting for him. As the athletes discipline themselves having in mind their goal of winning their own races, so also Paul was disciplining his body, paying attention that while he preached other, he himself would not become disqualified. The race that Paul was running, was not only for Paul though. We run in the same race too. The same crown, the same prize is waiting for us too.
Moving further, the race we are to run is also presented as a fight in the above passage of I Corinthians. Paul is speaking about it in other places too. One of them is I Timothy, where Paul giving instructions to Timothy, he writes:
I Timothy 6:12
Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”
There is a good fight, the good fight of faith, that we have to fight. Also in his letter to Galatians, Paul wondering about their state of faith writes:
Galatians 5:7-10
You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind; but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is.”
They were running well but not any longer. Somebody hindered them, troubled them. It appears therefore that in the race there is also a competitor, somebody that does not want us to run it well, and if possible, not to run it at all.
Paul speaks again about the race and the fight in II Timothy 2:3-5:
II Timothy 2:3-5 
You therefore endure hardship, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who has chosen him to be a soldier. And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”
The race becomes a fight and the fight becomes warfare. The athlete is also a soldier and the soldier is also a fighter. And a good soldier must learn to endure hardship.
Summarizing the above we can draw a picture of a good runner of the race, or a good soldier:
So, the good soldier or runner:
i) Runs the race with patience. As Barnes in his commentary explains this:

“The word rendered “patience” rather means in this place, perseverance. We are to run the race without allowing ourselves to be hindered by any obstructions, and without giving out or fainting in the way. Encouraged by the example of the multitudes who have run the same race before us, we are to persevere as they did to the end.”

ii) He is goal oriented and his goal in life is not to make life as more comfortable as possible but to get the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
iii) He doesn’t run with uncertainty. He doesn’t bit the air. In front of his eyes he has his goal, the prize, the imperishable crown. As Barnes again explains: “Not with uncertainty - (ουκ αδήλως ouk adelos). This word occurs no where else in the New Testament. It usually means, in the Classic writers, “obscurely.” Here it means that he did not run as not knowing to what object he aimed. “I do not run haphazardly; I do not exert myself for nothing; I know at what I aim, and I keep my eye fixed on the object; I have the goal and the crown in view.” (iv) He disciplines himself and he knows very well that he himself may become disqualified. Concerning the danger of disqualification, Paul tells us in II Corinthians:
II Corinthians 13:5
Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? - unless indeed you are disqualified.”
The good runner, examines himself, checks himself to see whether he is in the faith. He tests and disciplines himself.
iv) Moving further, the good soldier does not entangle himself with the affairs of this life, in order to please the one that he has chosen him. We can’t be soldiers of Jesus Christ and at the same time have our full interest in our own businesses. When there is a call up for soldiers, they leave back their businesses, farms, shops and go to war. This now does not mean that becoming soldiers of Jesus Christ we must leave our occupations. Paul himself was making tents to earn his living. But we must not be “entangled”, fully devoted, pre-occupied with it. As the Matthew Henry’s commentary of the whole Bible says:

“The great care of a soldier should be to please his general; so the great care of a Christian should be to please Christ, to approve ourselves to him. The way to please him who hath chosen us to be soldiers is not to entangle ourselves with the affairs of this life, but to be free from such entanglements as would hinder us in our holy warfare.”

In other words I would say, certainly we have occupations in which we work or obligations that we need to take care of. BUT we must not be entangled, caught up, overoccupied, with all these. These are not the aim that we are here. What we are here for is to please our General, to be good soldiers of JESUS CHRIST. We are in a warfare and we must not settle down like we are not! Expanding on this, as the Lord Jesus Christ said in the parable of the sower, the cares of this world, the deception of riches and the pleasure of life – i.e. the entanglements with the things of the world Paul is speaking about - make the Word of God unfruitful. In this parable many started well. The Word of God was sown and sprang up in many hearts. Yet it was only the last category that gave fruit. This also shows that the number of those who finish the race fruitfully is not necessarily equal to the number that started it. Let’s have a look at the interpretation the Lord gave to his parable:
Luke 8:11-15
“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. "Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. "But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. "Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. "But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.”
The second and third category started well but they didn’t finish well. To start the race is not therefore the only important thing. After you have started it, what is the most important is to keep up running it. And the only way to keep up is to run it with patience, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. Fighting the fight, aiming to please our General and not entangling to the affairs of this life. There is a misconception that becoming a Christian means a ticket to an easy life, full of pleasures. The word “blessings” has come to mean God will grant you whatever you are pleased with. Easy life has in many cases become the aim. We must pay attention that it will not become our aim. Our aim here is to serve the Lord Jesus Christ and entanglements, focus, on the things of this world can do only one thing: make the seed sown to our hearts unfruitful.
Our aim in this life is not to satisfy the definition of society of a successful guy. If Paul and Peter and the other faithful folks were living today they would not be valued much by the society. Paul left all the earthly privileges that he had, all that his society recognized as valuable, in order to gain Christ. As he tells us in Philippians 3:4-11
Philippians 3:4-11
“though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
There were a lot of things that Paul had attained before he became a Christian. Paul was somebody that his society honored. He was a “successful” guy, according to the definitions of his society, of the world. Yet he counted all these as rubbish that he may gain Christ.
To become fruitful in Christ, we must endure hardship, we must endure temptation and we must give up having confidence on riches or our own power. If we became Christians only to become a little more wealthy or a little more better off than our neighbors or to avoid this and that hardship, or to get a little more “blessings” then we have understood things wrong. As Paul says in I Corinthians 15:19
I Corinthians 15:1 
“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable”
If we only trust in Christ for this life, if our focus of trust is this life, then we are most pitiable of all men. Instead our purpose in this life, is to please the One that called us: the LORD JESUS CHRIST. He is our General, the author and finisher of our faith and we will only run the race if we run it patiently, having our eyes focused ON HIM.
Jesus Christ didn’t promise a “you will have it all” life. He invited us to take up our cross (Mark 8:34). He indeed promises blessings, but he also speaks about hardship. There is a prize but also a race. A crown but also a fight. And there it is where we need patience and to have the right focus. It is much more easier to run down a hill than to run it all the way up. To run down require very little goal orientation: the legs themselves drive you. But to run up you need patience and to be focused on the goal. Without this you might settle for sitting by the way and spending your life there. All the four categories started well, but only the last category chose to carry on running up the hill. They were the “ones that fell on the good ground …. having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.” They bore fruit with patience after having heard the word with a noble and a good heart. Set as your goal the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Set as your goal to please God, to be a good soldier of Jesus Christ, whatever this takes. You have tested and see that God is good. Focus therefore your life on Him.

The race: the competitor

As we saw previously, the Christian life is presented as a fight. Also reading in Galatians previously, we saw that they were running well but somebody hindered them in their race. Also we saw that temptation, the deception of riches, the cares of this world and the pleasures of life made the second and third categories of the parable of the sower unfruitful. We can also see in the same parable that the first category lost the sown to them Word of God because the devil came and took it away. It must be obvious from the above that the race is not a run alone race. There is also a competitor in this race. There is somebody that does not want us to finish the race successfully. He opposes our aim and wants us to stop reaching the goal. In other words, there is an enemy!
Ephesians 6 speaks about our struggle with this enemy:
Ephesians 6:10-12
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand”
This passage as well as the verses that follow it describe the struggle between us and the enemy. Paul does not start straight away with the description of the struggle. Instead he starts it with an invitation: the invitation to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. There is none as the Lord. It is not our power that can overtake the enemy. It is the power of His might and we must be strong in this power. And the invitation continues with calling us to put on the whole armor of God. Fighters have armors and we as soldiers of Jesus Christ have an armor too. And the armor has a purpose: that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. The enemy is the devil and he is wily. And the passage continues telling with whom we wrestle: not against men, not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers and the rules of the darkness of this age. We wrestle against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. There is an enemy therefore to whom we have to stand against, a fight we have to fight and an armor we must put on.
Verses 14-18 describe this armor:
Ephesians 6:14-18
“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints”
God has given us this armor and we need to take it up and put it on, in order to be able to fight the fight against the enemy. Further descriptions and instructions concerning our competitor in the race are also given in I Peter 5:8-11. There we read:
I Peter 5:8-11
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settleyou. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
The devil is our adversary, our opponent. He walks around and his aim is brutal: he wants to devour us. That’s why the Word of God tells us to be sober and vigilant. As the Matthew Henry’s commentary of the Bible comments on these two words:
“it is their (Christians’) duty, 1. To be sober, and to govern both the outward and the inward man by the rules of temperance, modesty, and mortification. 2. To be vigilant; not secure or careless, but rather suspicious of constant danger from this spiritual enemy, and, under that apprehension, to be watchful and diligent to prevent his designs and save our souls.
We must be focused on the right aim. Though we must vigilant, alert, our focus is not on the devil, but on the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to run the race focusing, looking, unto Him, and at the same time be sober and vigilant because of the enemy. We are to resist the enemy, steadfast in faith. This may mean that we may have to suffer for a while. It becomes evident from this and also from the passage that we saw from Timothy, that the Christian life does indeed involves suffering, hardship. It does indeed involves a fight and it requires steadfastness. It means that during our Christian walk we will have to suffer at times. Why do I say all these? I’m focusing more on those of us that for some reason are now discouraged in their Christian walk. To those who suffer and to those who it appears that what they expected from God is not what they seemingly get. You are in the middle of the fight but God is WITH YOU. You are going to get out of it triumphant. As Peter said “if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed but let him glorify God in this matter” (I Peter 4:16). Also as James said “blessed is the man who endures temptation” (James 1:12). I want to encourage you today to endure the temptation. This does not mean that we are to pretend that nothing has happened! We may have hurt feeling, we may have questions and we may wonder why God allowed all this. We must express our feelings openly to God. We may ask him our questions and tell Him how we feel. We are not supposed to play it untouched and just move ahead, while our hearts are full of hurt and disappointment. Job was a man that lived uprightly and yet suddenly destruction came upon him. His health deteriorated very quickly. His kids died. He lost all his property and his wife was scorning him for keeping his faith. On the top of all this his friends were blaming him for what had happened to him. Who could have imagine a worse combination than this? Job wanted to die and I may wanted this too if I was in his situation. But how did he react? He didn’t play it strong nor he curse God, as his wife encouraged him to do. Instead he cried out to the Lord, opening his heart to Him and at the same time questioning Him. His book is a book full of whys and questions directed to God. You may also have suffered a lot and you may also have a lot of whys. Things that you may have expected may not have happened. Few things are worse than unfulfilled hope. Hope that God will do this and yet He doesn’t. It may be a job that you didn’t get, a spouse that didn’t come, health that was not restored. Hope that was not fulfilled. Whatever it is, it is a trial. Whatever it is you must NOT close your heart. Whatever it is you have to speak it to the Lord. Question Him, cry out to Him, but whatever it takes communicate to Him. In all his sufferings Job did not blaspheme God as his wife told him to do. As he said “though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15). In all his awful sufferings and in all his debate with God, Job was faithful. It is one thing to question God in fellowship with Him, as Job did, and another thing to reject Him. Job was full of pain but he actually endured the trial. His wife, whom I don’t know whether she originally had faith or not, was full of pain too but she didn’t endure. She might have had hope in God in the good rosy days but in the days of suffering she went astray… second category of the parable of the sower. But Job said: only the good things will receive from God. Not also the bad. (Job 2:10). Job was prepared and you must be too. You must be prepared and make a decision that whatever it takes, whatever suffering, whatever unfulfilled hope or whatever else it takes, you will remain faithful till the end. It is not faithfulness to an idea… but faithful to the God that has revealed Himself to you. Make the decision to run the race till the end, whatever it takes, and run it with patience looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith! As Peter says:
“But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
God bless you

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Pray for your country

Pray for your country

You don’t bother with politics because you are just fed up with it? You think the leaders of your country do as they please anyway? Well, God desires that we, the church, influence the rest of the inhabited world through prayer.
Matthew 5:13
“Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.”
What does salt do? Salt gives flavour and it preserves.
2 Corinthians 2:15
"For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish:"
Genesis 18:26 
“And the LORD said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.“
When the church ceases to fulfill its function as salt, it will be thrown out and trampled under the feet of men.
1 Timothy 2:1-2
“I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, andfor all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.”
Who are those in authority? It’s your president, governor, senator, chancellor, your queen or king, the ministers in your parliament, mayor, teachers, etc. What did you do for them last, you prayed or you criticised? What are we to pray for those in authority? The most obvious I found in 1 Timothy 2:2, “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.”
Why would God want quietness and order? For a very practical reason:
1 Timothy 2:3-4
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”
It’s His will because it is good for the propagation of the gospel, which is His aim in this dispensation.
1 John 5:14-15
“And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.”
The responsibility is with us, not with the world, because as Christians we have the means to accomplish the results - prayer in the authority that Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross of Calvary.
Many political leaders are coming to the conclusion that they are facing problems for which they do not have the answer. You can kill endless numbers of men, but you do not deal with the spiritual forces behind them.
Ephesians 6:12
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places”
2 Corinthians 10:3-5
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;”
The weapons of our warfare are not bombs and guns because the strongholds refer to Satan’s strongholds. We have different enemies and different weapons.
Ezekiel 22:30
“And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none.”
If we are defeated, it is not through lack of armour but through the failure to use it. Will you stand in the gap for the sake of the people of your country? God is looking for YOU.
Daniel 10:10-12
“And, behold, a hand touched me, which set me upon my knees and upon the palms of my hands. And he said unto me, O Daniel, a man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak unto thee, and stand upright: for unto thee am I now sent. And when he had spoken this word unto me, I stood trembling. Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words.”
May God remind us, give us the boldness and determination to pray for those in authority – Amen!
Andrea Kioulachoglou 

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Some thoughts on material possessions

Recently in our house group we went through the passages of Acts 2:41-47 and 4:32-35. There we read:
Acts 2:41-47
“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”
and Acts 4:32-35
“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.
When I first came across these passages I was totally overwhelmed: they had all things in common; they sold their possessions and distributed to everyone as he had need; there was none among them lacking! Having read these passages, I also felt perplexed and many questions came to my mind: does what we just read mean that we are not to own anything and instead we must put it together into a common fund? If this is God’s will for us why we don’t hear much about this in the church today and moreover why we don’t see these passages lived this way? Is to possess something right or wrong? I asked at that time the brother that was teaching me the Word of God. His answer was that the Word says that those who were possessors of lands and houses (PLURAL) sold them. In other words, those who had just one house or just a piece of land they didn’t necessarily sell it. The Greek language is quite clear on this, as otherwise the Word could very well say “those that were possessors of a land or a house sold them” instead of speaking of lands and house. Still however I didn’t feel fully settled with my questions, though at that time these were not challenging questions to me: I was a student that was more on the receiving side of the equation that on the giving :-)). Nevertheless, these passages really stacked out as a part of a Christian life that it was very difficult to find in our world.
Today I would like to go through what the Word of God says not only about the above two passages of Acts but also about the topic of possessions in general. And let me make clear from the outset that though many times we will be speaking about material possessions I believe what we will see applies to any possessions that God may have put in our trust, as for example talents and time. As the topic is quite big we may need one additional issue to give a more complete picture.

1. Material possessions: Not unscriptural to have

With the time, quite much after my first encounter with Acts 2:41-47 and 4:32-35, I came to realize that the fact that today we don’t see many selling their possessions and putting them in a common stock, is not something unscriptural. Acts 2 and 4 do not tell us that every Christian has to sell his possessions and put the proceedings into a common fund. The position of the apostles on the matter can be seen by reading a little bit further in Acts 5:1-4. There we read:
Acts 5:1-4
“But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.”
“Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?”. If Ananias had kept his property and didn’t sell it, it would NOT be a sin. Ananias’ sin was not that he own a land but that he brought part of the price to the apostles, presenting it as the whole price. It was lawful to have land and it was lawful to keep the full proceedings from its sale. What it was not lawful however was to present these proceedings to God and the church as the full price of the land. This was a lie to God and this was what Peter condemned. We can infer therefore from this that it is not a sin to own material possessions nor that in the 1st century church everybody had to sell his possessions after he became a Christian.
Also moving further in the New Testament, we can see that in the church of Corinth contributions were taken every week for the needs of the saints (I Corinthians 16:1). The same we also see in Acts 11:27-30 where, due to a famine, contributions were taken and sent to the brothers in Judea. They were not asked to sell their possessions but to give an offering, to make a contribution. In addition the existence of poor shows by itself that they didn’t have everything in common, in a common fund in Jerusalem let’s say, as in this case there would be no need for Paul to ask the Corinthians for a donation: they would have given everything to the common fund anyway.
Moreover, in the Old Testament there are many examples of people who God blessed with material possessions. Abraham, Job, David, Solomon, Jacob are some examples of people who were indeed owners of much material wealth, which came from God.
From the above therefore we can say that the practice described in Acts 2 and 4, is clearly not a biblical command or something that somebody has to do when he becomes a Christian. Instead it was a voluntary act that the members of the church of Jerusalem did. God does honour ownership and we must not feel condemned that we haven’t sold our house or land and we haven’t put the proceedings into a common stock. The above passages however do convey a message that goes far more than the Jerusalem of that time. God does have a purpose that put these passages there. And I believe one purpose is to shows us the right view towards material possessions. Certainly it is not sin to own material possessions or even to be rich. Otherwise we would have to delete all the rich guys from the Bible and I’m afraid if we did this we would eliminate a large portion of it! God does give blessings also in the financial field. As He says in Malachi 3:10-12 speaking about the tithe :
Malachi 3:10-12
“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the LORD of hosts. ”
Also in Psalms 112:1-3 we read:
"Praise ye the LORD. Blessed is the man that feareth the LORD, that delighteth greatly in his commandments. His seed shall be mighty upon earth: the generation of the upright shall be blessed. Wealth and riches shall be in his house: and his righteousness endureth for ever."
It is not therefore wrong for somebody to have possessions. Going back to Acts however, it does mean that we must have the right attitude towards possessions. What is this attitude? It is the attitude that recognizes that everything belongs to God. That He is the provider and all is His. As Job, the wealthiest man at his time, said when he suddenly lost everything:
Job 1:21
“Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. ”
It means to recognize that everything belongs to God, and we are nothing else that stewards to Him. As the Living Application Study Bible comments on Acts 4:32 :
“None of these Christians [the Christians we saw in Acts 4:32] felt that what they had was their own, and so they were able to give and share, eliminating poverty among them. They would not let a brother or sister suffer when others had plenty. How do you feel about your possessions? We should adopt the attitude that everything we have comes from God and we are only sharing what is already his”
Also as I John asks:
I John 3:17
“But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? ”
and as James repeats:
James 2:15-16
“If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? ”
We can’t say that the love of God dwells in us when a brother or a sister next to us is destitute of daily food and we can help them, yet we “shutted up our bowels of compassion from them”. The Word of God is clear: we are to meet each other’s needs. We are to help each other. Jesus Christ Himself had a bag for the poor! Helping each other, caring for each other’s needs is one of the most important characteristics of being a family. I don’t know about your family but in my family I know that we will never suffer that somebody has a need and we will not help. We stand together with each other. The same has to happen in the spiritual family as well. We are bothers and sisters to each other. Therefore, we MUST NEVER CLOSE OUR BOWELS OF MERCY TO OUR SUFFERING BROTHERS. James uses what we read from James 2:15-16 as an example of faith without works. For in verse 17 says:
James 2:17 
“Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”
To say to somebody God bless you does not help much if we are not willing, to help, though we can.

2. Should we help without any qualification?

Now, having read all the above, does it mean that we are to help everybody without qualification? Does it mean that we are to meet every need that we see in front of us? I believe it doesn’t. Proverbs 3:27 tells us:
Proverbs 3:27
“Withhold no good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do”
Indeed there is a command to “withhold no good”. This is a command from God, and it is the same command we also saw in James and in John. We are indeed to do good. We are indeed to share our limited resources with others that have need. But the verse continues adding two qualifications. We are to withhold no good:
I) from those to whom it is due and
II) when it is in the power of our hand to do it.
The first qualification means that not all those who you see as needing help, they really need help. II Thessalonians 3:6-15 gives an example of a case like this one:
II Thessalonians 3:6-15
“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”
In the church of Thessalonica, there were some brothers that were not willing to work. They were lazy. And laziness does bring poverty (Proverbs 10:4, 24:33-34). The Word of God does not consider these persons as persons to whom “good is due”. Instead it very clear: if you don’t want to work then don’t eat either. The church should not support but instead it should withdraw from those brothers so that they become ashamed and start a change. Paul himself never asked for support when he was there but he was working hard so that he would not burden anybody. The Word of God is clear: if a person is poor and his poverty is due to laziness then he is not a person to whom support is due. The solution to his poverty is not support but work. It may sound hard but as the Word says in Proverbs 16:26 : “He who labours labours for himself, for his mouth craves it from him”. Poverty in this case is not something bad but a stimulant that may help the lazy person to move out of his laziness.
Also a second qualification is “when it is in the power of your hand to do it”. This in turn implies that you cannot cover everything. There are things that you may see, needs that you may feel and yet it is not in your hand to cover them. This qualification is also present in the verse from John we read previously: “But whoso hath this world's good”. As Bill Hybels says concerning this point1:
“the book of Proverbs tells us not to condemn ourselves or to slip into despair because we think we are failing a needy world. At such times we must say tenderly but firmly, “It is not in my power to do that.” Then we need to trust God to assign that particular task to someone else.”
Moving further, we can see that apart from the above qualifications, there are also some other priorities that God Himself has set. One such priority is given in I Timothy 5:8 :
I Timothy 5:8
“But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”
What this verse tell us is that first priority have those who are “of our own household”. We do have the responsibility to provide for them first. As Proverbs 6:1-5 say:
Proverbs 6:1-5
“My son, if thou be surety for thy friend, if thou hast stricken thy hand with a stranger, Thou art snared with the words of thy mouth, thou art taken with the words of thy mouth. Do this now, my son, and deliver thyself, when thou art come into the hand of thy friend; go, humble thyself, and make sure thy friend. Give not sleep to thine eyes, nor slumber to thine eyelids. Deliver thyself as a roe from the hand of the hunter, and as a bird from the hand of the fowler. ”
As the Life Application Bible comments on this passage:
“These verses are not a plea against generosity, but against overextending one’s financial resources and acting in irresponsible ways that could lead to poverty. It is important to maintain a balance between generosity and good stewardship. God wants to help our friends and the needy, but he does not promise to cover the costs of every unwise commitment we make. It is equally important to act responsibly so that our family does not suffer”
To summarize what we have seen up to now:
God wants us to view our possessions as belonging to Him. He must be free to do whatever He wants with them.
God does call us to be open and to not shut up our bowels of compassion from those who have need among us. The command to do good comes however with some qualifications:
I) do good to those who is due and
II) if it is in our hands.
Finally, family obligations do get priority over any other obligations. We are not expected to help others when our own family is needy, but we do expected to do it when these needs are covered.

3. Possessions: Dangers

I think few topics are more complicated than the topic of possessions2. I find the topic of possessions as one that needs very good balance. The Bible is clear that God does blesses His children with material possesions. It is also clear that He does wants us to be good stewards of everything He has given us including our possessions. After all it is HE that has provided it to us. It belongs to Him. On the other hand the Word of God warns a lot about the dangers coming from loving possessions. Here is how Paul sees the matter, speaking by revelation:
I Timothy 6:6-12
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses. ”
We brought nothing into this world and obviously we can carry nothing out. Food and shelter is actually all that we need, materially speaking. Do you have food and shelter? Millions of people in this same world that you and I live, under this same heaven, do not. They are hungry and homeless. Having food and shelter let us be content. God does give material blessings. We saw such examples in the Bible. But it is He that gives, not we that desire them! If YOU desire to be rich and wealthy then you are already in a temptation. And as James says about temptation:
James 1:13-15
“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. ”
The word “lust” here actually means “desire”. If you desire to be wealthy, it is clear: you are heading towards sin. Desiring to becoming wealthy is a sinful desire that will bring forth deadly fruit in its time. It is not wealth by itself the problem. It is the desire to be wealthy that is the problem. Do you want to be more and more wealthy? Is this your desire? If yes then you err and you need immediately to change. Job was the wealthiest man of the east. But he didn’t love wealth! Here is his witness:
Job 31:19-28 
“If I have seen any perish for want of clothing, or any poor without covering; If his loins have not blessed me, and if he were notwarmed with the fleece of my sheep; If I have lifted up my hand against the fatherless, when I saw my help in the gate: Then let mine arm fall from my shoulder blade, and mine arm be broken from the bone. For destruction from God was a terror to me, and by reason of his highness I could not endure. If I have made gold my hope, or have said to the fine gold, Thou art my confidence; If I rejoiced because my wealth was great, and because mine hand had gotten much; If I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness; And my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed my hand: This alsowere an iniquity to be punished by the judge: for I should have denied the God that is above.
Job was the wealthiest man of the east but his wealth was not his joy! He didn’t put his trust in wealth. And I believe this is the important matter: where our trust is? Job’s trust was in God. Job’s security was not the bank account or the big property, but God. Not the gold, but the Lord. That’s why he reacted the way he did when he lost everything: “God gave it, God took it”, he said. Job, on this matter too, was but a steward of God. This doesn’t mean that he was careless and lazy about his business. He had people working for him. He had a real business, the biggest business of his time. And yet look at his attitude. He was not touched by wealth. It was not his aim. I’m sure his business was very good. Not because of Job’s cunning methods but because God blessed it. But for Job everything was coming from God and belonging to Him. He wouldn’t forgive to himself to rejoice about his possessions, or put his trust in money. We can find out how far we are from him by observing our behavior. What happens when wealth is pouring in? How do we react? Do we rejoice in possessions? How do we react when we lose things? Is financial prosperity, to be wealthy, one of our aims? God does give material blessings, but why should we put out focus on them? Why should we desire to be wealthy? Having food and raiment BE CONTENT, says the Word! It is not the blessings our focus but GOD. It is not the bank account our security but the LORD. It is not gold our confidence but Christ!
An opposite example, an example of man that put his trust on money, we find in Luke 12:13-21. There we read:
Luke 12:13-21 
“And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. ”
Both the man of the parable and Job were rich men. But this is their only similarity. While Job’s joy was not dependant on his wealth, and his gold was not his confidence, this man here is the exact opposite. He is the picture of a worldly wealthy man. Unfortunately many of us have been grown with worldly standards of success and these standards more often than not, measure success with how much we earn. A job is a good job if it gives you a lot and a bad job if it is not. No word about contentment if we have to eat and we have a roof above us. So this guy here was a “successful” man. The ground brought to him so much that he didn’t know where to put all this. So here is what he decided: “And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry”. It was not the plenty that was bad. The ground brought forth a lot. Wealth came to him. This by itself was not a problem. The problem is what he decided about it and how he faced the whole matter. And the challenge is the same for us: what do we do with wealth? Now you may say, brother I’m only earning enough to live … so this passage is irrelevant to me. Praise the Lord that you have to live! Be content with this. But I believe this parable is not only for the rich men. This guy waked up one day and found himself with a lot. If you are not clear about wealth, if you don’t have clear Biblical values on the matter then, if wealth arrives to you, as it did to this man and also as it did to Job, it might be a snare and a temptation. So the problem with this man was not that he had a lot but his reaction towards this. In everything that he says the word “I” and “my” is preeminent. Where is God in all this? Where is a thanksgiving to God? Where is the recognition that He is the owner of all this and we are but mere stewards that must not get attached to what He has entrusted us. It is all His. So he failed to recognize the provider of the good crop. He failed to give glory to the owner of everything. Instead he considered everything as belonging to him. This was his first folly. Others followed it too: “I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry”. Plans, plans and more plans. But with what aim? Not to help the poor, not to treasure to God, not to even help his family and friends. All the planning was about him. “And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry”. All his well being was based on wealth. He rejoiced greatly in it. He now thought, “relax… now I have obtained the aim: drink eat be merry.” This is the aim of many people: “eat, drink, be merry. Be problem-free! Make lots of money so that now or afterwards, to be able to eat, drink and be merry.” Returning to our fellow, one further folly of him is that his planning was like the planning of a man that was going to live forever here! But in the midst of this selfish planning God spoke to him saying: “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” This guy was a fool. He put his confidence on wealth thinking that it would make him problem free. In other words, he did exactly the opposite of what Job did: gold became his confidence. As Jesus said: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” A man’s life does not consist of what he has. And this is what we see with this rich man: the day of his selfish plans for a happy life trusting on wealth, became a night of pain and death.
Returning to planning, it is not planning itself that is bad but selfish planning as was the planning of this fellow. As James said in James 4:13-16
"Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.”
What James condemns here is not planning. But plans that are based on the “I”. Only God knows the future. We know nothing, not even for the next second. We may well not be alive in the next hour. Who knows? Do you know? Only God knows. The planning of the rich man and the planning of these guys here was nothing more than a vain boasting in their self. “If the Lord will, we shall live and do this and that”. This is the right way to do a plan and to think about the future. It is right to do plans, it is right to do to the best out of whatever God has put in your hand. What is wrong is to trust in what God has put in your hand, to trust in wealth instead of trusting in God. This will indeed bring you to destruction
Proverbs 11:28
“He that trusteth in his riches shall fall”
while Psalms 1:1-2 tell us:
“Happy is the man that….. his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law doth he meditate day and night”
Happiness is not a matter of how big are your possessions but of how close you are to Lord. If you trust in wealth you will fall but if you rejoice in the Word of God you will be happy.

               Please check out Anastasios's book 
               "The Warnings of the New Testament". 
               Purchase at Kindle and Amazon or 
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