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Seeking Peace Along a Hard Road

Blessed Father, we desire to break bread with You, to walk with You & enjoy Your company. Make our hearts burn within us as we meet with You, unfolding Your Word in our hearts. Help us to see, hear & gain wisdom. Prepare us for the difficulties & joys of the day, so we may rely on You & give You glory no matter what may come. We seek You out for these blessings of faith & for the sake of Your glory being shown through us.
We pray this in Jesus’ Name, amen.

Luke 24: 13-35
13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

I long for these moments & experiences. As Christians, we long for the Lord’s presence, we desire to walk with Him, listen to Him & experience what these two experienced along the road to Emmaus. There is no greater joy than to be able to give our whole selves over to the will & mystery of the Lord, to be bundled up in His arms & to close out every sound but the sweetness of His voice. Swift & powerful, His tongue comforts & convicts, He cuts to the root of our sin & draws us up into the highest heaven. It is almost indescribable. But we long for these moments. We want every weekend worship gathering to be a place where we meet with Him like this, every moment spent in the Word like this, every encounter with a stranger, friend or family member like this when we share our faith with them.

But we must also be reminded of these two on the road. They were consumed, troubled & sad. They had expectations, desires for redemption & they wanted to see God’s hand move in a mighty & powerful way. And it took Jesus’ presence to bring them comfort. His Words, His presence, His laughter, teaching & prayer to open their eyes to what God had done & was continuing to do.

If we would feel His presence, then we must draw near & listen. We must hear what He says, and leave behind what fills our mind, giving it all over to Him in these moments where we need to draw near. While Jesus spoke, they were silent. They listened. They didn’t interrupt every third word, they weren’t engrossed in another activity. Their focus was undivided & therefore laser focused on everything He had to say. It was time spent just with Jesus. Unrushed, untouched, unadulterated. Just them & just Him.

If we want to feel the comforting presence of Jesus, then we need to give Him our attention. We need to listen & remove distractions. If we are broken & hurting inside, if life’s events are too much to handle & understand, then we need to trust Him with those moments & draw near to Him & Him alone.

Praise God for His Holy Spirit who can & does walk with us, even within us, through these moments of our day-to-day life. What a precious gift to know He is with us, moving, present & speaking to us. We simply need to seek Him out for peace & be still, trusting in His footsteps along the way.

Father, we bless Your holy Name! We praise the movement of Your Word in our hearts!
Teach us to listen & be still. remind us of Your presence & may we feel that sweet stillness in our spirits as we draw near to You along life’s road. Again, we pray in Jesus’ Name, amen.

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Unfinished Work

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My wife & I went to the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, KY recently, and saw this painting as soon as we entered the first gallery. This is The Expulsion of Hagar by Cristoforo Savolini. 

Or is it?

It’s obviously incomplete. You can see where forms are supposed to go, where Abram’s incomplete leg was supposed to be, but the painting is obviously lacking in a lot of its intended content. Where is the background? What time of day is it? We have no context for this painting. Sure it was painted in 1675, but are they in Canaan, London or Amsterdam? Rome, maybe? Is this set in Abram’s time, in Savolini’s? A lot of the cues that tell us that this is a complete painting are sorely lacking.

So is it a painting?

We can see that an artist was at work, right? We can definitely see that skill was used to complete what has been done so far, so it meets the expectation for quality on that front. We can see hints of what’s intended for the remainder of the human forms through the sketching on the base coat, so the future intent can be interpreted, not to say that our minds don’t go ahead and start filling in the gap a little on their anyway.

So, can implied meaning complete a painting? I can visualize the tent door flung open behind Abram as he’s pressing Hagar and Ishmael out of the home. I can picture a rolled rug or mat tucked in the corner, a basket, maybe a chicken running out of the way, maybe even a palm in the distance behind Ishmael. But even with my imagination employed, is this a painting?

I have to say “Yes, it is.”

Why?

Well, I see lots of things every day that are incomplete, or that are still under repair, or being worked on, but work to be done doesn’t make that thing less of itself. It is what it is, but it is in a state of repair or work. There are two men in my house right now who are removing tile from an old bathroom and who will, by tomorrow, take that little room through varying stages of demolition, construction and completion. But the room is still a bathroom. There is a sink, a shower and a toilet. The purpose of the room isn’t changing, it isn’t being changed into a different type of room. So it was built to be a bathroom, it is being remodeled as a bathroom and it will continue to be a bathroom after they are done. Status in progress doesn’t change intent or purpose.

This is the same for us who are in Christ.

When we come to Christ, from the very first moment of our redemption, we belong to Him. We are being shaped, sanctified, and matured into someone who looks more and more like Jesus every day. We are a Christian when we make the decision to follow Jesus, when we come out the baptistry and when we begin our very first Bible study. In five years, when we are steadily involved in local ministry, serving on a team, reaching out to our neighbors, leading others in prayer and bringing people to Christ just like we were, we are still His, still Christians. We are simply in a different state with Christ than when we began.

So many times I have talked with people who expressed some kind of concern that translates into a feeling that maybe they didn’t really know what they were doing when they came to Jesus, like they were too immature to really grasp what it was they were doing at the time, and so they have discounted their conversion experience. But here’s the deal, starting your very first step in the rhythm of grace and knowing the dance by heart don’t change the fact that you are doing that dance, hand in hand with God. You are taking the steps with Jesus at the lead, you are in progress with Him.

Grace was needed when we came to Jesus, and grace will continue to be needed as we walk with Him and we will continue to rely on grace until the day we meet Him face to face and we finally are complete in Him. Walking in such a way that doubts that grace, its effectiveness or the work of God is an attitude that works against faith. We must accept that God has adopted us, and that while we are a work in progress, an unfinished work in Christ, we will one day find our perfection in Him, even if it is after our life has ended. We are His, we are Christ-followers, a people in transition even while we are a people who are secure. This is grace at work in us, over time, every day.

So, is it okay to look at ourselves as an unfinished work? Sure. Absolutely. But we must also realize that Christ has already done the work to see that effort in us brought to its completion. Abram is a figure on a canvas, it was up to Savolini to see him finished. Human effort will always come up short, we cannot complete ourselves. But Christ’s handiwork will see us brought around to where He desires us to be in His timing. We must simply walk in faith, trusting Him and trusting His process.

We’re a masterpiece in progress.
Enjoy watching the Master at work in you, one brush stroke at a time.

 

Jesus ‘ Pre-Passion Prayer pt2

Father, this life we live as sojourners can be difficult & troubling at times. We know we are called to something higher, but there is so much low hanging fruit, forbidden fruit. Give us strength to walk the path of sanctification, the path of Christ, consecrate us as Your possession. Amen.

John 17:12-19
12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

When Jesus prayed for us knowing that we would be called apart from the world, apart from what people would be ready to accept. This is a narrow path, a difficult road. This is the path to Golgotha. He knew that we would be given a hard time, made fun of and abused, like He was getting ready to be. He was praying out loud about this support from the Father, and this fellowship with Him, so that we would have a foundation to weather the storms of life. Unity with God while we walk this path will sustain us, guide us and give us wisdom.

Jesus was getting ready to pay the price to see this through, that we would be able to draw near to God, finding our hiding place with Him. He also saw to it that we would become God’s possession, He consecrated Himself so that we might be made holy through the truth and His blood. Give God thanks for seeing to our every need in Jesus Christ. christ-2-lg-600x533

Jesus guards us, keeps us and gives us the joy of the Father through our relationships with Him. He is our blessing, our redeemer and He was willing to lay everything down so that we might find life & joy apart from the things and motivations of this dark and broken world. It would come through suffering, but He was willing. We must still endure suffering for His sake, but we count it as an honor that we might be refined by Him, grown in Him and matured by the heart & path of our Savior. We walk this path in the rhythms of His grace.

Father, this life we live as sojourners can be difficult & troubling at times. We know we are called to something higher, but there is so much low hanging fruit, forbidden fruit. Give us strength to walk the path of sanctification, the path of Christ, consecrate us as Your possession. Amen.

 

Something New Comes From This

Lord Jesus Christ, your blood washes away our sins and reconciles us to You. May we never get used to the wonder of a God who gives His own life for those who are killing Him. Amen.

We are meant for change.
That is the whole plan, that we would be remade in Him. It seems funny how gladly we receive it, and then how strongly we resist Him. It echoes Paul’s question, “What has become of our blessedness?” What changed? How did complacency creep in? What insipid means distracted us, waylaid us and have kept us from being made whole as so deeply desired?

To come to Jesus Christ, who was a man acquainted with sorrow and suffering (Isaiah 53:3), and to receive the offer from Him to be our Master (Colossians 2:6), we must expect suffering and sorrow to be a part of our road (Romans 5:3), too. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except by Him (John 14:6,) and to then take up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24,) we must -know- that the Way which we follow is a path of self-denial (not my will but Yours be done [Matthew 26]) and a pathway of suffering (Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.[Luke 23:34])

But in this suffering we are refined (Malachi 3:3), and we find our blessedness. Where then does our blessedness go in those days where we seek worldly comfort over Christ?

Galatians 4:12-20
12 Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. 13 You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, 14 and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. 15 What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17 They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. 18 It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, 19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! 20 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

May we never trade the work that God desires to do in us for the false and hollow comforts of the world or the wide path (Matthew 7:13.) When we take our eyes off of Jesus, and we begin to look around at the world around us in our journey through it as sojourners, there will be enticements, temptations, and seductive lures that try to drag us from our refining, from our true purpose, as we walk along His Way (1 Peter 2:10-12.) We must abstain from them, not partially, but wholly, following the example of Christ whom we claim (1 John 2:6.)

What God intends for us who follow Christ, is that something new would be born (2 Corinthians 5:17,) released and set loose upon this world. We, the cross-carriers (Mark 8:34,) would walk the path of peace (Luke 1:79,) the narrow road (Matthew 7:13-14), in the footsteps and suffering of Jesus (2 Timothy 2:3,) and preach the Gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15.) For God desires that all should come to Him,  that none of the wicked would perish (Ezekiel 33:11.) That is our Word, that is our work.

There is something new being made in You through Christ. Once you are clothed with Him, the old person has passed away, the new has come, we have been baptized into a death like His (Romans 6:3,) and God makes a new creature of us, He instills a new desire in us, and He perpetuates this desire as we walk a fruitful, faith-filled life, obedient to Him above the desires of the flesh (John 3:36, Acts 5:29, Romans 6:12, Hebrews 5:9.) Call it a sermon of suffering, call it life, call it whatever you will, it is our love song to the world, echoing the chorus sung by our Lord & Master.

 

We shall not be moved

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The LORD lives!
Blessed is my Rock!
Exalted is the God of my salvation!

28 For it is you who light my lamp;
    the Lord my God lightens my darkness.
29 For by you I can run against a troop,
    and by my God I can leap over a wall.
30 This God—his way is perfect;
    the word of the Lord proves true;
    he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.

31 For who is God, but the Lord?
    And who is a rock, except our God?—
32 the God who equipped me with strength
    and made my way blameless.
Psalm 18:28-32

In the words of the Folk Spiritual song,

We shall not, we shall not be moved,
We shall not, we shall not be moved,
Just like a tree that’s standing by the water,
We shall not be moved.

When we stand with God, we will always find ourselves in a secure place. Encouraged by His presence, bolstered by His love, we are agents of grace in a hostile world. What a blessing to have this assurance in our faith. God is our lamp, the light for our path. No matter what shade may cross our path, no matter what obscuring lies may attempt to infiltrate our heart, the Wisdom & Truth from God the Father will always point us in the right direction. Trust in Him, even when the world screams its heresies and when it repeatedly whispers its soft, subtle lies, trust in the light of the Lord. When hard times come, when desperate times press us from all sides, rely on the strength of Christ and the power of His presence to see you through. Even when you cannot see the way, He will light the path for us.

With God, we can withstand anything, and overcome the obstacles in our path. He is the One who provides a pathway and the one who empowers His children. We are always in a good place when we stand with the Lord. be encouraged by His good promises, be lifted up by His grace. The onslaught of the enemy cannot stand against the Lord our God. He is our shield, He is faithful and true. He is our rock and our redeemer. Find your hope in Him. Find your strength in Him today. He is with you who have put on Christ.

His way is indeed perfect, He has shown us this time and again. His grace equips us for our encounters with others in need of grace. His steadfast love enables us to love those who are difficult to love. His boundless forgiveness reminds us of our own need to forgive others, echoing His great justice and mercy. His care & provision for us reminds us that we have been blessed to bless others, to reach out to those who suffer injustice, to provide for those in need.

He is everything we need.
In Him we stand secure.
In the face of all life’s struggles, we will not be moved.

35 You have given me the shield of your salvation,
    and your right hand supported me,
    and your gentleness made me great.
36 You gave a wide place for my steps under me,
    and my feet did not slip.
Psalm 18:35-36

The LORD lives!
Blessed is my Rock!
Exalted is the God of my salvation!
In Him may we find strength for the day’s trials & troubles.
In Him, may we find grace enough to share.
In Jesus’ precious & holy Name,
Amen.

Psalm 119:105-112 // נ Nun // A Lamp for my Feet

“105 Your word is a lamp for my feet

and a light on my path.

106 I have solemnly sworn

to keep Your righteous judgments.

107 I am severely afflicted;

Lord, give me life through Your word.

108 Lord, please accept my willing offerings of praise,

and teach me Your judgments.

109 My life is constantly in danger,

yet I do not forget Your instruction.

110 The wicked have set a trap for me,

but I have not wandered from Your precepts.

111 I have Your decrees as a heritage forever;

indeed, they are the joy of my heart.

112 I am resolved to obey Your statutes

to the very end.”

Psalm 119:105-112

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Read this section of Psalm 119 again, remembering how God has revealed His ways to you in His Word.

Read it a third time, remembering what His Word has saved you from, how He has kept you safe.

Read it a fourth and final time, remembering how He has shown you grace, and praise Him for it all. It is through His Spirit & His Word that we have our hope as we await Christ’s return. 

Acts 8:9-25 // Pride & Sorcery 

“9 A man named Simon had previously practiced sorcery in that city and astounded the Samaritan people, while claiming to be somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least of them to the greatest, and they said, “This man is called the Great Power of God!” 11 They were attentive to him because he had astounded them with his sorceries for a long time. 12 But when they believed Philip, as he preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Then even Simon himself believed. And after he was baptized, he went around constantly with Philip and was astounded as he observed the signs and great miracles that were being performed.

14 When the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had welcomed God’s message, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 After they went down there, they prayed for them, so the Samaritans might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For He had not yet come down on any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

18 When Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power too, so that anyone I lay hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.”

20 But Peter told him, “May your silver be destroyed with you, because you thought the gift of God could be obtained with money! 21 You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”

24 “Please, pray to the Lord for me,” Simon replied, “so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”

25 Then, after they had testified and spoken the message of the Lord, they traveled back to Jerusalem, evangelizing many villages of the Samaritans.”

Acts 8:9-25

I cannot tell you how many times I have had conversations with people centered around a behavior, habit or practice that they have tried to maintin from their old life in their new life with Christ. Simon the sorcerer dealt with this same issue, fought this same battle and fell to it. He used to be ‘the man’ in the area where he lived. He participated in the dark arts, which affroded him some fear and respect among his people and neighbors. But when the light of the truth of the Gospel came into the picture, the people saw real power, real authority and Simon’s act only seemed like a dim light in comparison to the blazing evidence of God that was laid before them. 

And Simon, at first, saw and recognized it, too. And he left that life behind for a time. But, as happens with most of us from time to time, those old thoughts and habits and desires crept up and in this case, they got the best of him, and he received a very quick, very sharp rebuke from Peter & the apostles because his heart and his thinking were very, very wrong. 

We all have our moments, don’t we?

The struggles that I deal with and the struggles you deal with may be very different. The point of the matter is acknowledging them before hand, being very open and honest with ourselves, with God and maybe even with someone who could help keep us accountable. That way, when temptation starts to creep up, we have an outlet, someone to talk to and hash things out and a way to learn -how- to do what is right as we grow in our faith. No one is so incredibly mature that they can do this on their own. No man is an island.

Simon the sorcerer stands as a warnign and a reminder to us that we need to separate ourselves from our old lives, our old paths, our old habits and move on to new, better fields when we come to Christ. Those old paths are well worn, and its all too easy to get our wheel hung up in our old ruts again, and then we find ourselves headed right back into the same nonsense that we were into before. 

My heart goes out to people like Simon, but we all must be accountable for our actions. Every choice we make is a choice that we have to make intentionally. Nothing we do ‘just happens’ or comes about by accident. When we walk too close to the edge, we have to know that the odds say we are going to fall back in again. It’s just human nature. 

We don’t have all the details on why Simon’s heart and mind made this leap to try to purchase the Holy Spirit.It obviously shows an ignorance and immaturity on his part, but he let it run too long, and so it caused his fall. Tradition, not scripture, tells us that Simon became what is known as a proto-Gnostic, he became convinced that the faith was really all about secret knowledge and other interpretations of the spiritual realm and that he himself was this voice of God, not Jesus. Again, that’s tradition, not scripture, so take that with a grain of salt. 

The reminder here is for us to be mindful of ourselves. I am all too good at falling back into my bad habits and practices if I don’t make a very definitive break and change what and how I do things and conduct myself. I can’t flirt around with the old ways, and I’m going to assume that you cannot either. 

New paths aren’t always comfortable, but when Jesus is the one making them before us, we can be assured that His plans are always for our best. God’s plans are to prosper us, to give us a hope and a future, and never lead to what we see happening with Simon here in Acts 8. As we GoLove people, making disciples, we need to be as firm and loving as we can when we help them find these new paths in Christ, leaving the old life solidly behind. Be present with them, walk in hand in hand and show them the joy that you have found in Christ and your new life in Him.  And authentically lived life in Christ is always going to be more attractive than the old life of sin, shame and sorrow. 

  

Mark 4:13-20 // Hearing & The Word

“13 Then He said to them: “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any of the parables? 14 The sower sows the word.
15 These are the ones along the path where the word is sown: when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word sown in them.
16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, immediately they receive it with joy. 17 But they have no root in themselves; they are short- lived. When pressure or persecution comes because of the word, they immediately stumble.
18 Others are sown among thorns; these are the ones who hear the word, 19 but the worries of this age, the seduction of wealth, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
20 But the ones sown on good ground are those who hear the word, welcome it, and produce a crop: 30, 60, and 100 times what was sown.”
Mark 4:13-20

Again, verse 13, “Then He said to them: “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any of the parables?” This parable lays the foundation for understanding how people will respond to all the others and to the teachings of Jesus. This is the condition of the human heart, all humanity is represented here in this one lesson. Every last human being falls within one of these groups, and their understanding of God, His Kingdom, His will and most importantly, His Word, all fall within the parameters of these soils. Why is someone responding the way they are when we GoLove and share the Word with them? Look at their heart. What type of soil do they have? Find your answer and understand.

Within this one parable, The Word is mentioned eight times, it is obviously the central point of the parable. Then, hearing is mentioned four times. It is how the The Word is received. When we present Christ to anyone and everyone, The Word is the first and primary vehicle for teaching. It is how they are going to hear. The Word is not secondary, it is not introduced at a a later date. Reliance on the Word keeps the focus where it belongs, on God. Reliance on the Word keeps our humility in check and relays our position as a servant, not as one who is ‘in charge’ or ‘authoritative’ on our own. Reliance on the Word points hearts and minds toward God, not toward a pastor or teacher, as if a human being has the wisdom that the Word commands. Every moment we share the things of God, we need to be focused on Him, through Him and be motivated because of Him. There are no Christian celebrities, only God is famous and worthy of praise and recognition. We simply serve, sharing the truth of His Word with those who do not know it. That is our primary passion, our drive and our concern, that the Word is preached, taught and shared in every way possible. The Word cuts to the heart, not us. The Word brings conviction because of the Holy Spirit’s power, not ours. The Word is the vehicle for change and gives us direction, it is not a human plan or undertaking. We simply stand as servants of the Word. We are sowers, and sowers scatter seed. We cannot make it grow, it is beyond us to carry that task out. We must be faithful, and spread the Word.

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