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Silence Though Not Traditionally ‘Enjoyable’ Is a Powerful Film

Silence was a beautiful film, but very difficult to watch. Not just because of the many, many scenes of torture, but because it was painfully long, repetitive, and slow, even laborious. Though it is beautifully shot and there are some poignant moments of theology and insight into the human psyche, it’s not an enjoyable movie in practical terms. If for no other reason than that it is just too darn long.
 
Yet, I think what it has to say, and even more, the way it made me think, is incredibly important. That’s why I think this is a film that every believer should watch. Not just watch. Experience. 
 

Silence was a passion project of unparalleled director Martin Scorsese, a film he has been trying to get made since he first read the book on which it was based in 1989 – Silence, by Shūsaku Endō. It tells the incredible story of two Portuguese Jesuit priests who go on a mission in 1640 to find their mentor, Father Ferreria, who they have been told denounced his faith under severe persecution in Japan. They cannot believe that he could have ever denied God, no matter how great the persecution, so they go on a mission to find Ferreira and clear this slander from his name. 

 

What follows is a long, painstaking journey into the world of persecution. Real persecution. Not getting upset because Starbucks doesn’t make a Christmas themed paper cup or that there isn’t prayer in public schools anymore or even that you may have been passed over for a promotion because you were standing up for your moral principles. Real persecution. People, your friends, your flock, being tortured to death in front of you because you refused to deny Christ. 

 

It is so intense and so absolute that it doesn’t feel real. You don’t believe it actually happened. Like when you tell kids about the Holocaust for the first time – “People didn’t actually do that to other people, did they?” But it is true. It is real. AND it is still happening, all over the world today. People are literally being beaten, tortured, and killed for their faith in countries where Christianity is illegal or seen as a threat to the government. It’s not just a movie. 

 

I experienced so many emotions watching this film, none of them good – sadness, anger, frustration, helplessness, guilt, fear, worry, doubt. I asked myself so many questions. What would I do? Would I have the courage to not denounce my faith? Is that courageous or is it stupid? If he just gave in to save those people’s lives, wouldn’t God forgive him? He forgave Peter for denying Him, right? But then there was Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They all stood firm in their faith and were ready to go to the fiery furnace and the lion’s den, whether God saved them or not. And they changed the world with their faith. 

 

Then quoting Paul to myself, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” To die is gain. Do I really believe that? 

 

Then the feeling of “Thank you, God, that this isn’t me. That I don’t have to make that choice.” Then the guilt that I just thought that, when others around the world don’t have the privilege to thank God for not having to make that choice. And back through the string of emotions I go. 

 

We have no idea how easy we have it as Christians here in America. No idea. Even after watching this film, I literally cannot fathom what those people went through, what people around the world are going through. Hard as I try, it’s still a movie to me. I watch with tears and I ask myself hard questions, but at the end of the 3 hours, I get to walk back out to my car and drive home to my safe little world where I can worship whoever I want as openly as I want. 

 

But the journey and the questions are important. It opens my eyes, helps me to see, helps me to think, helps me to challenge my easy cozy little faith. It pushes me to look online for ways I can help those who are being persecuted – ministries I can support, ways I can pray, how can I can be a voice. It pushes me to dig deeper into my heart and what I say I believe. It exposes the places where I am weak and leads me to lean even more on Jesus. 

 

That is what great film is supposed to do — take us on a journey that makes us think. That is what makes Silence, though not traditionally “enjoyable,” a powerful film. 

 

For more information and to know how to help Christians who are persecuted around the world, visit The Voice of The Martyrs: https://www.persecution.com

 

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Washington Supreme Court Rules Against Christian Florist in Same-Sex Marriage Case

(By Joe Carter, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission). The Washington State Supreme Court ruled against a Christian florist who refused to serve a same-sex wedding because of “her relationship with Jesus Christ.” In their unanimous decision the state court claims that, “discrimination based on same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The ruling is the latest legal setback for Barronelle Stutzman, the 72-year-old owner of Arlene’s Flowers & Gifts. Last year Washington State’s sued Stutzman because she refused to sell flowers to a long time customer when the arrangements were to be used for a same-sex marriage ceremony.

Although Stutzman, an active member of a Southern Baptist church, did not have any qualms about serving homosexual customers, shedidn’t want to be involved in a same-sex marriage.” Stutzman had served her friend and customer Rob Ingersoll for nearly a decade, designing custom arrangements for Valentine’s Day and other holidays. But when Ingersoll asked Stutzman to arrange flowers for their wedding, she told him that while she valued him as a friend, her faith would not allow it.

Last year a Benton County Superior Court judge ruled that the law trumped her rights of conscience. “Religious motivation does not excuse compliance with the law,” said Judge Alexander C. Ekstrom in his 60-page opinion.

At the time, Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced he would accept $2,000 in penalties, $1 in fees and costs, plus an agreement not to discriminate in the future and to end further litigation. But Stutzman rejected the proposed settlement, and in a letter to the Washington state attorney general, said:

Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about. It’s about freedom, not money. I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important. Washington’s constitution guarantees us “freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment.” I cannot sell that precious freedom. You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of silver. That is something I will not do.

I pray that you reconsider your position. I kindly served Rob for nearly a decade and would gladly continue to do so. I truly want the best for my friend. I’ve also employed and served many members of the LGBT community, and I will continue to do so regardless of what happens with this case. You chose to attack my faith and pursue this not simply as a matter of law, but to threaten my very means of working, eating, and having a home. If you are serious about clarifying the law, then I urge you to drop your claims against my home, business, and other assets and pursue the legal claims through the appeal process.

The attorney general continued to go after Stutzman, even though the refusal could cause her to lose her shop.

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Related:

Russell Moore criticizes Washington Supreme Court ruling in case involving Barronelle Stutzman and religious liberty

Listen to Al Mohler’s The Briefing for 2/17/17. Mohler discusses  · · ·

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A Two-Minute Clip on Homosexuality Every Christian Should Watch

(Posted by Matt Smethurst at The Gospel Coalition). Sam Allberry explains how the message of Jesus on marriage is life-giving.

Sam Allberry—editor for The Gospel Coalition, speaker for RZIM, founding editor of Living Out, and author of Is God Anti-Gay?—addressing the Church of England General Synod in London this week.

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The Heartbreaking Misdirection of Glitter Ash Wednesday

Parity, a LGBTQ group announced a new initiative this Lenten season. They are calling it “Glitter Ash Wednesday.” Participants will receive glitter mixed into their ashes from participating congregations.

Organizers say, “Glitter Ash Wednesday will demonstrate that LGBTQ Christians and our allies are passionate about our faith, and about seeking justice and wholeness for LGBTQ communities and other marginalized people.” Parity reveals the false gospel undergirding this idea:

“God made you. You matter. There are no barriers between you, God, and the whole, full life you are called to live.”

But if that is true, then we would have to ask why did Jesus have to die? What is Christian passion if it ignores the Passion of the Christ? Why talk about Ash Wednesday, Good Friday or Easter Sunday at all if there is no real need for a sinless Savior to redeem us from the power of sin in life and the penalty of sin in death?

Parity’s statement suggests a form of Christianity without the Cross. That is not truth.  While it is true that God created you and you matter, there is a barrier between the Holy God and every sinful human.  If we say we are without sin the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sinfulness and rely upon Jesus – His incarnation, atoning death, resurrection and ascension – then the barrier is broken down and we are reconciled to God.

Ash Wednesday initiates a 40-day period of personal reflection and repentance focused on the reality of Holy Week, Good Friday and finally Easter. The ashes used on Ash Wednesday are the charred remains of last year’s palms to which loud Hosannas were sung at the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Those same crowds turned murderous and called for Jesus’ crucifixion just five days later.

To be clear, we each and all need a Savior.  Sin is rebellion against God and we’re all born into it.  We are all guilty of it. There is no gradient of sin. We all fall short. And there is a penalty for sin – it’s death.

2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us why Jesus had to die, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” We cannot bridge the chasm our sin created. And a Holy God cannot tolerate sin. God Himself reconciled these two irreconcilable facts in the only way possible: He provided the perfect sacrifice in our place.

It may be more comfortable to skim over Good Friday and what necessitated Christ’s death, but that’s not The Gospel. We cannot have the freedom promised in Christ’s resurrection without accepting His work on the Cross in our place.

Some will be tempted to pass Glitter Ash Wednesday off as a carnival of the absurd.  But beneath the show there is heartbreaking misdirection, an old attempt to replace the liberty offered to sin’s captives with something other than Christ alone.

Luther writes to the Church on the book of Galatians:

“[I]f we do not by faith take hold of Christ as he sits at the God’s right hand, interceding with the Father for us wretched sinners, then we are under the law and not under grace, and Christ is no more a Savior, but a lawgiver. Then there will be no salvation for us, but a certain desperation and everlasting death, unless repentance follows.”

So to even participate in the celebration of Ash Wednesday, we need to answer these central questions: Why did Jesus leave the glory of heaven to be born in human flesh and allow Himself to be subjected to this reality? Why did Jesus die? Why was such sacrifice necessary? What does John mean when he cries out, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?”  Why is Holy Week holy and why is repentance of sin necessary?

If the answers to these questions don’t align with the actual Biblical witness then they are lies, even if they parade around the streets as self-proclaimed truth.

John Newton, the slave-trader turned hymnist wrote in his last days this succinct reminder, “Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.” This is the only truth to which we can cling.

The good news of the Gospel is God’s redemptive plan for salvation. And at center of that plan is Jesus. Without Jesus there is no salvation, no shimmer, no light.

Glitter, in the end, is just tiny broken pieces of reflective glass. Glitter doesn’t redeem and it doesn’t enlighten the ashes of sin and death.  For that there is Christ, alone.

(1) The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Galatians by Martin Luther, xxii

Originally posted on The Reconnect blog. 

Related article: ‘Glitter Ash Wednesday’ is a terrible idea, Jacob Lupfer, Patheos

 

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The Bible’s Clarity Should Be Evident in Our Lives

(By Mark Labberton, Christianity Today). The “perspicuity” (clarity) of the Bible was real to me before I even knew what to call it. It was an experience long before it became a tenet of my faith. I started to read the New Testament just as I was about to enter college. With very few assumptions, and with no theological or spiritual commitments, I simply picked up the Bible and began to read.

I read and re-read the Gospels, and then the whole New Testament. I was without instruction in almost any of the historical, cultural, political, or theological issues of the text. I was by no means sure there was a god, nor was I sure that this text and its apparent claims were true or relevant to some possible divine being. It simply seemed to me that a literate person should be acquainted with the Bible, and so it all began.

The portraits of Jesus presented in the Gospels astonished me. The four distinct angles of vision invited me to look carefully through a set of lenses at the most important figure in the New Testament. I had feared that religion made life small and insignificant. Petty religion was repellent. I didn’t need religion to help me have a small heart or a pathetically self-interested worldview. I knew my own capacities in these areas were more than sufficient!

As I read, heard, and meditated on the witness of Scripture, I came to discover that what Jesus offered was in fact the antidote to smallness: the kingdom of God. The smallness that pervades much of our natural human enterprise, whether it is business, education, politics, or religion, was the problem of a shrunken heart and mind. By contrast, the kingdom of God—life under the reign of God’s grace and truth in Jesus Christ—expands and unleashes our heart, mind, soul, and strength for the profound purposes for which we were made.

To my utter surprise, the Bible proved itself to be clear to me, even though I knew almost nothing about it. What the Bible made plain was that I was loved, sought, convicted, called, and redeemed by the true and living God who came to save the world—including me—in Jesus Christ. The clarity of Scripture was not an abstract principle; it was an apt description.

Learning to Delight

The Bible’s plainness also made clear that to respond to this text—to the God named and made known through this text—would be to take up the most difficult, lifelong challenge I could imagine. It would be a life-enlarging, mind- and heart-expanding act of deliverance from my small self. It would mean coming to inhabit the complex story of God—a story that made claims about creation, about human identity and purpose, about moral reality, about human suffering and pain, about power and injustice, about failure and grace.

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Two Large United Methodist Churches Vote to Leave Denomination

(By Walter Fenton, Good News). Two large local United Methodist churches in the Mississippi Annual Conference have taken congregation wide votes to leave the denomination. Ninety six percent of the parishioners at Getwell Road UM Church in Southaven and 99 percent at The Orchard UM Church in Tupelo supported separation on Sunday, February 5.

The senior pastors at both churches explained that their congregations are now in a process of discernment with the annual conference regarding their departures. Getwell Road UM Church, a vibrant and growing suburban congregation in the greater Memphis, Tennessee, area, averages over 800 people in worship. And The Orchard is the 15th largest United Methodist church in the U. S. in terms of worship attendance. On average, over 2,700 people attend its weekend services.

“We want our departure to be as peaceful and God honoring as possible,” said the Rev. Bryan Collier of The Orchard. “We will be in conversation with Bishop James Swanson about the details and timing of this process. We want to act honorably and peacefully.”

Bishop Swanson, the resident bishop of the Mississippi Episcopal Area released a statement on Monday afternoon informing the conference of the news. He reported that he and two district superintendents are engaging in a discernment process with the pastors and their congregations.

“Our staff and lay leadership have had conversations about this move for some time; it’s not something we rushed into,” said the Rev. Bill Beavers of Getwell Road UM Church. “This past October we invited the whole congregation to engage in conversation and prayer over the possibility. Several serious months of discernment preceded our congregational vote.”

Both pastors cited their congregations’ frustration with the denomination’s long and acrimonious debate over the church’s sexual ethics and teachings on marriage.

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Stories of Hope: The Vulnerable Church at Work in Iran

The photo above is an actual house church in Iran, gathered around a laptop watching the show that is depicted in the photo below.

Taping a house church program in the US for broadcast in Iran.

Last fall, we shared a story about the vulnerable church around the world and how God uses these brothers and sisters to do His kingdom work. The vulnerable church has much to teach us here in the West. These believers are living out stories that need to be told and retold, stories of hope in Jesus Christ. In this article, we share about how God is using the vulnerable church in Iran and a remarkable story of forgiveness and redemption.

Iran is a unique place in the Muslim world. Why? Because it’s on fire for Christ. This may sound antithetical, but the Holy Spirit is doing a mighty work there. In fact, more people have come to Christ in Iran in the last 14 years than in the previous 1,400 years combined!

God is working through Iranian men and women to share the Good News of Jesus in many unique ways. House churches have been springing up in unthinkable numbers with hundreds of thousands worshipping secretly. A vast array of internet and satellite programming is available – in a country where satellite dishes are illegal! The programming includes leadership training, theological training, model church services and much more. And Iranian ministries outside of Iran are providing leadership training to church leaders inside Iran.

One such organization is Pars Theological Centre in London. Started by an Iranian Christian in 2010, Pars’ mission is to strengthen the Iranian church by training a new generation of biblically grounded servant leaders who will lead the church into loving God and one-another, transforming Iran for the glory of God. They offer a “virtual” seminary to train leaders both in Iran and in the Diaspora (outside of Iran). Building upon their online studies, students meet with pastors, trainers and instructors in secret locations in other countries for the courses and workshops. Curricula is also provided via other “non-traditional” techniques such as flash drives that are brought into the country and shared between leaders.

Teaching Iranian house church leaders in a secret location outside of Iran.

The new breed of Iranian church leaders is making an impact. Here’s a story of how one Iranian Christian made a difference, and saved lives – both physically and spiritually:

One day, while she was in law school in Tehran, Narineh came across a disturbing case in her research. Two years earlier, there was a fight between two Muslim 17-year-olds, Afshin and Feridoon, in a nearby town. In the altercation, Feridoon hit Afshin on the head with a broken piece of glass. Afshin died from the injuries. Feridoon was arrested, sent to the local prison and sentenced to death. However, because he had not reached legal age, the court postponed his execution until a later date.

 

Feridoon’s family was not well off. His mother had died young and his elderly father, a builder, had great difficulty providing for his family. Given the family’s limited income, the court appointed a lawyer to help appeal Feridoon’s sentence. The defense was unsuccessful and Feridoon’s death sentence was upheld.

 

Narineh, having read through the file two years after it was written, realized that Feridoon was soon to be executed. She was eager to meet with him and thus made arrangements to visit him in prison. When they met, Feridoon began to cry, begging Narineh to find some way to save him. She spoke to him about Christ, telling him to put his trust in Jesus. The next day, Narineh went to meet with Afshin’s family. She spoke to them about the love and grace of Christ, as she had done with Feridoon. Given their anger, hatred and pain, they paid little attention to Narineh’s words, insisting that Feridoon should be executed. Narineh read the Sermon on the Mount to them and spoke to them about forgiveness, but with no effect. She gave them her telephone number offering to assist with any legal problems, but also encouraging them to understand the significance of Christ’s forgiveness before it was too late.

 

A week later, Afshin’s mother phoned Narineh saying that for several nights she had dreamt of Christ being crucified. In these dreams she saw Christ on the cross, without hatred, and with eyes full of love, praying for the forgiveness of others. Afshin’s mother asked Narineh to visit them again. This time, Afshin’s family listened to her every word. Narineh gave them a video of the “Jesus” film, once again encouraging them to understand the importance of forgiveness.

 

Narineh was given permission to visit Feridoon once more before his execution. She encouraged him again to pray in the name of Jesus, reassuring him that the Lord loved him and had not left him alone. He was to be executed in five days.

 

Two days prior to the execution, Afshin’s family experienced a radical change of heart. Through Narineh’s witness and their watching the Jesus film, the Holy Spirit touched their hearts. They decided to visit Feridoon in prison. There, they told Feridoon that they forgave him. Then they went to the prison office and requested that Feridoon be set free and not executed. There were no dry eyes in the room. No one could understand the grace Afshin’s family showed toward Feridoon.

 

The next day, Feridoon was released. He immediately went to Afshin’s family to thank them. In response they said, “Thanks be to Christ! He is the one who helped us show mercy and it was Christ who wanted us to find new life.” Narineh was invited to join them along with Feridoon’s family. “New life” truly flowed into Afshin’s house that afternoon. At Narineh’s invitation, all those present committed themselves to Christ. Hatred melted away, replaced by love, grace and forgiveness. Today, both families lead house churches.

Outreach Foundation“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.” 2 Corinthians 2:14

 To learn more about Pars and other Iranian ministries, contact The Outreach Foundation at info@theoutreachfoundation.org, call 615/778-8881, or go to the website at www.theoutreachfoundation.org.

 

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Messages for Our Noisy Age in Scorsese’s “Silence”

(By Ann Corkery, Real Clear Religion). We live in such a harsh and noisy age that silence can sometimes seem unbearable.

But there’s a particular type of silence that is most disconcerting of all. It’s a silence we all can experience—non-believers certainly, but believers, as well.

It’s God’s silence in response to the violence and persecutions that ravage our world. It’s God silence in response to our seemingly unanswered prayers.

Or it’s what we take to be God’s silence.

That’s the “Silence” in Shusaku Endo’s historical novel and Martin Scorsese’s recently released movie adaptation of the book.

Non-believers point to this silence, sometimes with contempt, in making their case against God’s existence, but even the most devout believers have experienced that silence. Saint Teresa of Calcutta certainly did—for the last 50 years of her life—as her letters and diaries make painfully clear. The martyrs depicted in “Silence” most certainly did while experiencing the brutal persecutions of Christians in 16th and 17th century Japan.

Endo’s main character, a Jesuit missionary, writes back home to Portugal: “Already two years have passed since the persecution broke out; the black soil of Japan has been filled with the lament of so many Christians; the red blood of priests has flowed profusely; the walls of the churches have fallen down; and in the face of this terrible and merciless sacrifice offered up to Him, God has remained silent.”

“Silence” is the story of two Portuguese priests (Father Rodrigues, played by Andrew Garfield, and Father Garrpe, played by Adam Driver) who sneak into Japan in search of their former teacher (Father Ferreira, played by Liam Neeson). There, they learn that, like so many Japanese Christians, Father Ferreira has “apostatized.” He has been forced to “trample the fumie”—to walk on the image of Christ and, thus, publicly recant his Christian faith. Ferreira is now married to a Japanese woman and living at a temple while working on a book refuting Christianity.

Captured and imprisoned, Rodrigues faces a similar choice: Apostasy or death—not own his death, but the unspeakably cruel deaths of several devoted Japanese Christians.

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Book Review: “No God But One” by Nabeel Qureshi

(By Joseph Rossell, Juicy Ecumenism). Most Muslims and Christians know their religions trace their origins back to the same Abrahamic roots but diverge widely in both theology and practice. However, beyond these basic facts, how many adherents of either faith have examined the beliefs of the opposite religion in detail?

No God but One: Allah or Jesus, by Nabeel Qureshi. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016. 320 pages.

Nabeel Qureshi seeks to remedy this dilemma in his latest book, No God but One: Allah or Jesus. Published last summer, the book serves as an essential resource to at least two groups: Christians who desire to share their faith with Muslims and Muslims interested in investigating the claims of Christianity.

“While sharing this message [the Gospel], I often come across two kinds of people: Christians who enjoy criticizing Islam, and Muslims who want to argue but do not want to learn,” Qureshi writes. “I am not writing this book for either of them.” Instead, he intended for No God but One to reach those interested in discerning the truth about Christianity and Islam.

Qureshi deftly weaves together personal narrative and powerful real-life stories with apologetics and historical evidence to examine the case for Islam versus Christianity. Based on the evidence, he shows why an objective observer would choose Christianity over Islam.

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Related article: 7 Highly Inspirational Quotes from Nabeel Qureshi about His Faith

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100% of Christians Face Persecution in These 21 Countries

(By Samuel Smith, The Christian Post.) One-hundred percent of Christians in 21 countries around the world experience persecution for their faith in Christ as over 215 million Christians faced “high levels” of persecution in the last year, a leading human rights watchdog group reports.

Open Doors USA released on Wednesday morning its 2017 World Watch List, which is the 25th annual ranking of the top 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution.

“2016 was the worst year of persecution on record with a shocking 215 million Christians experiencing high levels of persecution for their faith,” Open Doors USA CEO David Curry asserted during a press conference at the National Press Club.

“It is worth repeating that nearly one in every 12 Christians today lives in an area or culture in which Christianity is illegal, forbidden or punished. Yet, today the world is largely silent on the shocking wave of religious intolerance,” he continued. “The 2017 World Watch List and the information it represents presents one of the most complex and pressing challenges to President-elect Donald Trump and his administration.”

According to a fact sheet provided by Open Doors, the organization documented as many as 1,207 Christians who were killed around the globe for faith-related reasons during the 2017 list’s reporting period — Nov. 1, 2015, to Oct. 31, 2016.

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Open Doors’ The 2017 World Watch List

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