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June 4, 2023

Failure Figures: Saul

Failure Figures: Saul | Week 2

Failure Figures: Saul | Week 2

It was last Saturday night that Mindy and I were headed to dinner. It was right around five o'clock, and she said, “Hey, let's flip on YouTube and watch the service.”

I'm like, “Sounds great.”

We're streaming it through the car. By the way, the youth pastor Erik, last weekend — come on. Come on. Great job. Great job. So, we're in the car and, obviously, our son's playing drums. Mom likes to watch her son play drums. We’re hearing it in the car, streaming it. You know? I mean, technology's beautiful. Anyway, then Pastor Erik gets up, starts speaking, and he says, “We're starting a brand-new series this weekend.”

I'm like, “Oh, we are?”

Because I was planning on doing the series that we were in because I knew I was going to be speaking here before I took off on my sabbatical. I'm going, “I wonder what all these young guys are doing when I'm not around.”

I'm thinking, “I bet you they knew that I was going to be out of town. ‘Memorial Day was Monday. The old man's only going to have a couple of days to come up with a message. Let's see if he still has it.’”

I'm joking. They’re not really doing this. Then I started thinking, “Are they wanting me to be a failure figure?”

Anyway, I had two options. I could go back to what I was doing, or I'm just going to flow with what they did. But then I also knew this. I knew that the teaching team — I'm telling you, you are in for a treat over the next many weeks. They've got two series that they've put together, and there are a lot of different people who are going to be speaking. You know them, but they've not spoken. I mean, they’re working hard on all of this.

What I didn't want to do is pick an Old Testament figure and it be somebody else's figure in the sermon series — that I didn't even know that we were doing, by the way. Anyway, I called around, made sure that I didn't do anything, and we'll start there. But before we get into the message this weekend, there are some things I've learned along the way. I share these not because I think I'm any better, or anything like that, but I share these because there are just some things that I've learned along the way, as someone who's been afforded to be able to go and have the education that I've had, and to study under the people that I've studied.

It’s taken me a long time to understand the Old Testament. The Old Testament's a difficult book.

I tended to, in the first part of my educational pursuits, be a New Testament guy. I was a Paul guy. It was only when I worked on my second doctorate that I went back and really started working on the Old Testament because, honestly, it wasn't as great to me as the New Testament was. I mean, I'm just being honest here. I mean, y'all probably love the Old Testament more. Leviticus, all those books, the pots and pans sections, and all that. I mean, I get it. I just didn't know, sometimes, how to read or study it.

So, I want to share some things about the Old Testament, in studying the Old Testament, in reading these stories — it applies to the New Testament, as well, but primarily to the Old Testament — things that I've just learned that have changed my life in reading the Old Testament. The first thing is that the stories of Scripture, specifically in the Old Testament, are far more about them reading us than us reading them. As somebody who’s studied systematic theology — and that is what my PhD was in — I was concerned about putting all the things together, theologically, and all the stuff. So, when I would read the Old Testament, I would read the Old Testament while going back to mine the Old Testament for the things that I was looking for, the theological concepts, the ethical concepts, or whatever it may be. It took me about 30 years into this thing to realize, “Whoa, hold on. What you're doing is you're reading your stuff into these stories. You’re trying to find your stuff in these stories. Why don't you stop and just let these stories be a mirror to you, and read you, Chip, rather than trying to get a bunch of information so that you can tell people where they're wrong, or so you can point out inconsistencies?”

Because in the tradition I grew up in, the more you knew the Bible, the more you could quote chapters and verses, the more everybody thought you were mature. So, that was like the goal, to learn all this knowledge. Paul tells us that knowledge puffs up. Many times, it does. So, what happens is that I've learned that when I go to these Old Testament texts, when I read these stories, if I stop, if I don't bring my junk and try to find my stuff — because, by the way, most of the stuff that we're trying to find in the Old Testament, things going on today, issues, and all this stuff, they don't have any idea what we're talking about at all. They're not even dealing with the same stuff, half the time, that we're trying to retroject in, and fit in. So, a lot of times it's just good to say, “Hey, this story, how does it read me?”

On top of that, Scripture is God's way of accommodating you and me. God can't tell you and me everything about Himself because we couldn't handle it. We wouldn't know it. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. He's God with a really big, bold “G” in front of His name. You know? So, Scripture, as Augustine, Calvin, and other people have said, is sort of like baby language to you and me. When we sit around a baby — you all have made a fool out of yourselves around babies, right? I'm not the only one? All that stuff you do. Scripture is God's way of communicating to you and me in ways that we can digest Him.

In understanding that, Scripture is God to us. It's never us reading back and exhausting God. He's infinite. He's not going to be exhausted. So often, I’ve read the Scripture as if I was studying God, had God down, and had everything the way it was. Then you get prideful, you get arrogant, and all those things. It’s taken me a long time to realize that's not the way to do it. Scripture teaches us what we need to think about, know and do in our relationship to God. Oftentimes, we read it so that we can tell our neighbor what they're doing wrong, or we can point out to somebody else. Really, when we go to Scripture — and Scripture was written to believers. It wasn’t written to unbelievers, but it was written to believers — it really is a mirror. These stories in the Old Testament are so rich, so revealing, and it's taken me almost a lifetime to realize, “Man, I could have been getting so much more out of these stories if I wouldn't have been reading them for my own reasons, my own devices, to mind them for the things that I wanted, or to try to find a particular thing that I wanted to support in combing through the Old Testament to find a chapter and verse that would support whatever it is that I wanted to bring to the text.

I've learned that in reading these stories, what they do is they read me, and they read us. So, I want to look at a story, but I'm not going to have a whole lot of time to develop this person's life. I only have a limited amount of time, so I can't, but you probably know this person. I'm not going to get in how all of this came about and whatever. We're going to just enter into this person's life right in a chapter and verse, and it's Israel’s first king. His name is Saul. If you're a leader, if you're a pastor, if you're a small group leader, if you're a business owner or whatever, Saul is a sobering read because here is Israel's first king, and what we're going to read here is a pretty revealing story. We’re not reading the story to judge Saul. That's not our place. We're reading the story to ask the question, “What parts of Saul are in me?”

It’s interesting when we read Scripture that way. what part of this person is in me? What is this saying to me? How is this shaping me? How is this exposing things in me that aren't great? So, let's take this passage. I'm not going to be able to go through the entire chapter. I'm going to go through a lot of it. Some of it's going to be at the end, so there'll be like some things that I say here, and then some stuff at the end, but I want to encourage you to go back and read the entire chapter. I would encourage you to read before and after because this is an incredible, incredible story, and it's one that really is shaped in Samuel because Saul is actually the second giant that David fights. They both end in the same way, which is literarily important. Both of them end up with their heads severed, both Goliath and Saul.

They both are huge giants. By the way, we're getting David prepared to fight his biggest giant, which he failed, which was Bathsheba. So, all of these things put together, it's like the stories are so rich, so dynamic, and they're trying to say things to you and I. So, let's get into the text.

It says, “And Samuel said to Saul,”

Samuel here is the prophet who was the child of Hannah. She had prayed for God to give her son, and she dedicated Samuel to the Lord. Samuel was a prophet, and Samuel had anointed Saul. He had done it reluctantly. The people of Israel wanted a king, but Samuel didn't think they needed one. So, he's anointed Saul, and we're picking up the story here in the middle of the story. Saul's done some things before, but now we're picking up the story here.

He comes and says, “‘The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord.’”

This becomes the underpinning of the whole story here in 1 Samuel 15. By the way, you won't see it oftentimes in the English translations. It's a gripe I have. When the same Hebrew word is used, I wish they would use the same word so that you could pick it up in English, the literary devices that are being used. But by the way, this word “listen” or “to hear a voice” can be translated many different ways, but the same Hebrew word is used in 1 Samuel 15:1, 14, 19, 20, 22, and 24. It’s used for a reason because the writer is writing to you and me, not about Saul or to judge Saul or to tell what kind of king he was. It's to read you and me because the big question is, “Am I going to listen to the Lord or am I going to choose to do things my way?”

So, this text starts off with, “Hey, you need to listen to the Lord. God anointed you and put you in this position. Are you going to listen to His voice?”

As I read this, I have to ask the question. How many times do I not listen? How many times do I Frank Sinatra it? You know? Do it in my own way. So, the story continues.

“‘Thus says the Lord of hosts,’”

Now Samuel is speaking prophetically to Saul. Most of the times in the Old Testament, the prophets do what we call forthtelling. We tend to think that all prophecy is foretelling. In other words, it's predicting the future. A very little bit of the prophets in the Old Testament are foretelling much of anything. There are definitely foretellings, but most of it is forthtelling. It's basically reading people's mail right on the spot. He says, “This is what I want you to know.”

“‘I have noted…’”

Now, notice that he says, “I’ve noted something.”

What he's noted here happened years and years and years and years before this. This is Moses. We're already to Saul. Years.

The Lord says, “‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt.’”

It's like, “Whoa, man. We’re going way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way back here. We're going back to something that happened a long, long time ago.”

He says, “‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt.’”

And then we have this verse that is on YouTube. People trash God. Some of us don't know how to read it. We don't even know what to think because we're trying to read, like, “How do we study God? Is God the same in the Old Testament as He is in the New Testament?”

The answer, of course, is of course He is. But we're trying to mine all these things and put all these things together. We come to a passage like this, and it's like, “Whoa, what is going on?”

That's why we're reading this together.

He says, “‘Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have.’”

It's like, “Whoa.”

It gets worse.

He says, “‘Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

We read that, and we go, “Oh, God's a meanie in the Old Testament. He's agitated in the Old Testament, then Jesus comes, and He's so nice. Did God not get enough food or something in the Old Testament, or whatever?”

It’s like we're doing stuff to the Bible that’s just not really what the text is trying to say. Let me just give you some quick things to think about here. First of all, this is a judgment by God for sin. He hasn't forgotten what Amalek did. You may think, sometimes, that you get away with sin, but you don't. This is a judgment, though, for sin because God is holy. Oftentimes, we don't realize that God is. The text should be reading us, like, “Hey, do you know what? You’d better listen to the Lord, because if you don't listen to the Lord, it can be ugly. It can lead to bad places.”

This is a judgment by God for sin. Not only that, but plenty of time has been given for repentance and change because God is long-suffering. They have had years and years and years and years, but we read it as if, “Oh, God's just having a bad day. ‘Go slay the Amalekites.’”

No. It is not even just to slay the Amalekites. It is a judgment for sin. Not only that, but the victors don't get the spoils. See, in the ancient Near East, when you would go wage war against another group, what you'd do is you'd bring their king out, parade them around, show them how great you were, maybe make a statue to yourself, and talk about how great you were as a king. Then you'd keep the best things for yourself. God's like, “No, no, no. This is not you, Israel, going and conquering someone else. This is a judgment for sin. We’re getting rid of all of it because you don't get any of it. This isn't something you're going to win. This is something that you're going to do because I'm calling you to do something. Will you listen to my voice?”

Oftentimes, God says things to you and I that don't make sense because His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts. We're fine though, aren't we, in Romans 13, when we talk about the powers that be, that they can wield the sword not in vain, and they can bring justice? We’re like, “Yeah, get 'em!”

Until we read the Old Testament, and we go, “Oh, God must be mean.”

No. Jesus talks about judgment too. He's not different. This is a judgment of sin. On top of that, this is not an ethnic cleansing. This is an ethical judgment. People are always like, “Oh, God's cleansing.”

No, He’s not. We’re trying to make the Bible do things that it's not doing. The text is not dealing with all these things that we try to bring into the text because God's goodness, kindness, holiness, love, etcetera are never questioned. Never questioned. What's happened is He’s going to judge a group of people that He’s given years and years and years and years and years to do. He says, “Saul, you're the king. I want you to go do what I’m calling you to do. Don't take anything. It's not yours. I'm doing this. Go follow what I have to do.”

Then we pick up the text again.

“So Saul summoned the people…”

He got everybody together. He got 200,000 men on foot, and 10,000 men of Judah.

“And Saul came to the city of Amalek in lay in wait in the valley.”

Now, while he is there, he remembers the Kenites. All these, the Jebusites, the Kenites, the Amalekites, the termites, there's a lot of them, right?

“Then Saul said to the Kenites, ‘Go, depart, go down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them. For you showed kindness…’”

He's like, “You guys don't want to get involved here because we're getting ready to come in and we're going to sort of clean house here. You guys can move on. Get up.”

“So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites. And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive…”

That should be the first point here where you go, “Oh, hold on here. What's going on? He's not listening to what God told him to do.”

“…and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword.”

We’re never called to understand God's judgments. We're never called to understand exactly how God does everything because He’s beyond us. The question here is, “Is Saul going to listen to the words of the Lord?”

That's the question. That's the mirror.

“But Saul on the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good,”

What did they do? They treated this as if it were a war.

“We get Agag. We can parade him around. We get all the good stuff.”

God's like, “That’s not what I called you to do at all.”

“All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction.”

It’s like there was this pause here as you're reading the text. Are there times that God asks me to do things that I don't do, or do I sometimes half-heartedly do them? Do I really listen to what God has to say? Then we have this moment of interruption.

“The word of the Lord came to Samuel…”

It had come before, and now it's come again.

God says, “‘I regret…”

This is God talking. Just a few verses later, it says that God's not a man that He repents or changes His mind, and here He says, “I regret.”

We go, “How does that work?”

We don't know how that works. What we know is that God never changes. He is the same yesterday, today, and forevermore, but he also has feelings about things that go on. And that's all we need to know. How that works, we don't know. What we know is enough about God to know that He’s God< he doesn't change, He's not fickle, He doesn't do whatever He wants to do, but He also cares about His creation.

He says, “‘I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.’”

Samuel's going, “I told You not to make him king.”

Do you know why I know that?

Because it says, “And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the Lord all night.”

The difference between Samuel and Saul is Samuel's a amen of faith and Saul is not. It doesn't say that he got all of his answers, but what it does say is that he went to the Lord. He was angry. We'll come back to this in a minute. We know that he worked it out. Do you know how he worked it out? Do you know how he worked it out?

“And Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul. And it was told Samuel, ‘Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself…’”

“Yeah, I beat the king. I’ve got the spoils. I put a monument up for myself.”

Do we ever do that temptation, like, “Look at me?”

This is the text. It's reading us. What part of Saul is in me? What part of Saul is in you?

“‘…and turned and passed on and went down to Gilgal.’ And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him,”

Saul's got the religious thing down.

He says, “‘Blessed be you to the Lord.’”


“‘I have performed the commandment of the Lord.’”

You have to stop and go, “Is he deceived? Is he lying to himself? Does he know that he didn't do the right thing, and he still wants to play a game? What about me? Are there times that I'm deceived? Are there times that I am lying to myself? Are there times that I play the game?”

How about yourself? Because that's what this text is about. That's what these stories are about. They're to read you and I. Samuel says, “Hold on for a second, man. What did you just say? You performed what the Lord said? I'm hearing something. I'm hearing a voice. I'm hearing a bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the oxen. Something’s not right here, man. I'm hearing something here that's going on.”

Saul said, “‘They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people…’”

“It's their fault.”

“‘…for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God,’”

He's not even Saul's God anymore. Saul has just gone awry, and the text is showing this. Man, we can look the part, we can play the part, but we may not be authentic. This text is reading us.

“‘…and the rest we have devoted to destruction.’”

Samuel goes off. We'll come back to some of that, here in a minute. I'm not going to read that right now, but it leads Saul to his first moment of, “Oh my gosh.”

He says, “‘I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.’”

Remember 1 Samuel 15:1?

“Will you listen to the voice of the Lord?”

“No, I'm going to obey other voices.”

Then Samuel goes off again. Saul, once again, says he's done wrong. “I have sinned, but I don't want anybody to know it. So, can you put on a show, and can we just walk like everything's okay so that they don't understand what's gone on? Can you honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may bow before the Lord your God?”

This is one of those moments where you read and you go, “Whoa, man. Wow. That's a slide. Could that be true of me? Could that be true of you?”

This is a text that really speaks deeply to who we are because that's what these stories do. They read us because what God wants is He wants people who honor what He says. So, what are some lessons that we can learn very quickly here? Let's go through a couple of them.

First of all, partial obedience is disobedience. We live in a world today that, I mean, everybody's just sort of doing whatever they want to do with the Word of the Lord. That's why I'm telling you, as your pastor, as long as I'm your pastor here, we are going to preach, unashamedly, without any problem at all, without any hindrance, the Word of God, here at Grace, because partial obedience is disobedience. Let me read you what goes on in a chunk of the passage that I didn't read to you.

Saul said to Samuel, “‘I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord has sent me.’”

It’s like, “Man, you didn't.”

How many times do we think we're doing it, but it's partial? This is real stuff. This is like, “Yes, Lord. Read me. Show me. Lead me. Help me to be the person You want me to be.”

“‘I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.’

“And Samuel said, ‘Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying his voice? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.’”

And then it's sad here.

“‘For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as inequity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.’”

It's just a sobering moment. Like, wow. Man, God must really take His Word pretty seriously. Maybe we should. I think this is the story. It reads us. It's reading us so that we don't end up in the positions that God doesn't want. It hurts Him when things like this happen, when people decide to do a partial obedience. That's disobedience.

Second thing: We’re going to obey somebody's voice. Whether you believe it or not, it's going to be yours, your friends, or whoever's. But the real question is are we going to obey God's voice? Because he says, “I feared the people and obeyed their voice.”

Let me tell you something. It is time, right now, for the Church to not be worried about the other voices that are out there. It's time for the Church to be worried about what God has said, and let's do and follow what God has said. That is the way to go walk in it. Amen? When we do partial disobedience, when we do things not really well, what we do is we hurt the witness because so many people look at the Church, they look at what we do, and they just think we're like — and we are. We are faulty. There's nobody who’s not hypocritical at some level. People, all the time, are like, “I know you’re a pastor. I'm not going to your church. Everybody there is a hypocrite.”

I'm like, “You’re right.”

He's like, “What?”

I'm like, “You’re right.”

“Well, your church must be really bad.”

“Yeah, it’s probably worse than I know.”

“What's wrong with you?”

“Plenty. Want to hang out for a while?”

Like, “What?”

I mean, none of us are perfect, but when we act like we're perfect, when we act like we have it together, when we put on the show, and people know that the show isn't really who we are, it hurts what we do in God's name. Let's be honest, I'm not a great person. The great things that are in me are because of what God has done in me. The things that are in your life that are good, holy now, and sanctified are what God has done. Let's make sure we give Him the glory and not try to put it on ourselves, how righteous and godly we are, pointing fingers at everybody else. Just be honest that, “Hey, do you know what man? If it weren’t for the goodness of God, who knows where I would be?”

Amen? Third. This is so important. We are merely participants in God's unfolding drama of redemption. We're never the stars of it. Let me just make it very clear around here. There are no pastors on this staff, myself included — none of us, nobody on staff, nobody who’s part time. There are no stars at this church. There are no celebrities at this church. The only star and the only celebrity at Grace Community Church is the Lord Jesus Christ. Period. End of story. We have to remember that because what does Saul say? He says, “They’re my people.”

No, they're not. They’re God’s people. Saul, you’ve made it about yourself.

“Chip, where do you make it about yourself? Where have you set up monuments?”

I come in here every week, I stand at a certain chair, I look up, and I say, “This is not for you, but this is for me: This church is not my church. These people are not my people. If You want to raise up somebody who can do it better than me, and if You want to send me on my way, here I am. Send me.”

Why do I do that? Because I've read this story over and over and over again, and I don't want to duplicate the same thing. And I don't think you do either, by any stretch of the imagination. But we're not stars. We're just participants in the unfolding drama of redemption of the King of kings and the Lord of lords. In a way that I'll never understand, He's included us on His team. The weary, the burdened, the hurt, He says, “Come on. Let me show you what I can do through you. Let me show you how I can heal you. Let me show you how I can make something out of your life.”

But we're never the stars. He is. Fourth. This is a tough one. Religious performance can be devoid of real relationship with God. This is a moment here when he says, “Just honor me. Don't let everybody see what's really gone on. I don't want the elders of my people to see what I've really done. Let's put on a show.”

My goodness. I look back at my life, and there have been times when I have put on that show. I look, and I go, “Chip, God is not as concerned about what you do as much as He is about having you. He wants a relationship.”

If He knows He has you and I, we will do the things that we need to do. But when He doesn't have us, we can sometimes put on a show, and we don't need to. Listen, maybe you're hurting right now, maybe you're going through some stuff. You don't need to come in here, smile, and act like everything's okay. You need to come in here and say, “Man, I need some help. I need somebody to pray for me. I need somebody to help me.”

Let me tell you something. If we can't be a church that when somebody comes in here and says, “I'm broken, I'm hurt, and I'm going through garbage,” — if we can't be there for them, if we push them aside, if we act like they're unholy or whatever, I'm going to tell you something. We will become a church where there's all kinds of performance, but very little relationship with God. The place where God's at that's real is where everybody who's hurt, problemed, and broken can come in, feel like they have a seat at the table, and feel that they matter. We want to be that church.

Lastly, being a follower of the Lord is no easy journey. It's not. Samuel was angry. I'm going to tell you, I've been doing this for a while. I’m fifty-three now, and I can tell you — I know some of y'all were surprised. You thought I was thirty-nine. It's actually funny. I was at a table, one time, and the person said, “You know, you look a lot younger in person. Up there on the platform, you look old.”

I was trying to think, “How do you answer that?”

The point here is that he has cried, and he is angry. Folks, I'm going to tell you something. Following the Lord ain’t always going to be easy. I knew that I was getting ready to go on sabbatical and be out of here for a little while, and a brand-new song had come out. I didn't give the band a whole lot of time to learn it, but I was like, “I want to sing this song.”

I'm going to tell you something. When we sing this song, you've never heard it. Maybe, maybe, maybe, if you're really into Christian music, you might have heard it, but you probably haven't heard it. I'm going to tell you're sing some of the words, and you're going to go, “Ah, I don't really…”

No. This is what it means to follow Jesus. I wanted to leave with this song because I want you to think about it while I'm gone, what it means to really live the Jesus way, and what it really means to authentically look like Jesus. I'm going to ask you, as your pastor, please show up, be here, and support everybody here. So many different people are going to speak over the summer. They’re all on our staff, and they need to be cheered and encouraged because we're trying to raise up a team. Because I really do believe, whether it's in my lifetime or the life of those who are coming on after me, that we will have other locations. We want to make sure that we've trained and groomed pastors. I'm not going to be here forever. This isn't about me at all. It's about Jesus. It's about reaching people. We’ve got great young ministers. Chris Pedro, an awesome campus pastor. An incredible campus pastor. As much as I want you to come say hi to me — and I do — before I take off, you need to also go see this man because today is his birthday. Okay? I texted him, and I said, “You’re like a son to me.”

He's grown up around here. He was at our first location on Swift and Ashton. I mean, these people are dear to me around here, our staff. I want us to be a place where Jesus is the focus because, I'm telling you, we’ve got a lot to do, a lot to accomplish, and not a lot of time.

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