Visions and Dreams

“ ’Twas the night before Christmas. . .” begins the holiday poem by Clement Clarke Moore that catapulted the story of Santa Claus and eight tiny reindeer into a modern holiday icon. In this verse, the family children are pictured as being all “snuggled in their beds while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.”

But there is a different vision for us to grasp at this season when the Advent of Christ is cherished. Rather than the festive meals with delightful foods, and the anticipation of toys and trinkets by children who have to be shushed into bed several times Christmas Eve, for the Adventist Believer God’s Word presents another kind of vision for the days we live in.

Right now, we are on the threshold of the second-coming of Jesus Christ. Far better than any anticipated Christmas present a child or adult could imagine, will be the joy of seeing Jesus face-to-face, and being re-united with loved ones laid to rest until the resurrection at Christ’s appearance.

To prepare for that day, Joel 2:28-29 tells us that there will be visions and dreams in the lives of young and old, men and women.
“And it shall come to pass afterward
That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your old men shall dream dreams,
Your young men shall see visions.
And also on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:28-29, NKJV)

God has a vision and a dream that He is ready to give you. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit God is inspiring young people with the mission of Jesus. In these last days, God is calling to the hearts of men and women to preach and proclaim the nearness of Christ’s return – the ultimate Gift of God after the birth of the Savior, His life and His death on the cross for all of humanity. Young and old, men and women, dreaming dreams for Christ and receiving visions of Spirit-led mission are given the invitation to share the Greatest Gift of eternity. Here in Joel, God pictures every member of His church as equally having a vital part of the great mission of Jesus to lead souls to the kingdom.

All across the Pennsylvania Conference, let us join together in this Christmas season, sharing the vision of a soon-coming Savior with our corner of the world. This December doesn’t need to be about the mad holiday round of activities or the taxing gift list for numerous friends and relatives. Instead, let’s have a vision for what we can give that has eternal value. Let us invite the Holy Spirit to flow through each one of us in the unique way that God desires to shine His light through us.

“Know Nothing” Adventists

One of most unique political parties to arise in American history was the Know Nothing party. The causes that it championed were to restrict the immigration of certain ethnic peoples and to curb the influence of a particular religion in the United States in the 1850s.  Members of the Know Nothing party included US Congressmen from Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, and the former United States President, Millard Fillmore. Because of the semi-secretive nature of the party’s organization, when a member was asked about its activities, he was to say, “I know nothing.” By 1854 they had won numerous local elections from the Northeast, Midwest and California and numbered over one million members.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church grew up in the era of “causes,” “issues,” and “reform movements.” Our own spiritual history is sprinkled with such things as:  The Millerite movement, health reform, dress reform, the temperance movement, education for former slaves, and opposition to Sunday laws among other reform activities.

As a church, it is obvious that we can get passionate about different issues and causes. In the 1880’s the Adventist Church faced a major division over law and grace, with long time church officials appealing to delegates to the 1888 General Conference Session to “Hold to the standards and the pillars,” while the younger men like Jones and Waggoner were presenting Righteousness by Faith. To some it appeared the church could divide over this issue and fall apart.  Causes and issues seem to flow through our history. Even to this day.

I remember well the days when I was studying for the ministry, and the question over the Sanctuary message and the investigative judgment was hot and heavy.  Some of my classmates in the seminary followed a charismatic teacher from Australia and decided that they could no longer serve in ministry in a church that held the message of an investigative judgment or believe in the 2300 day prophecy. My wife and I carefully studied for ourselves the sanctuary message again, and through those turbulent times, we saw the message of Christ and His redemptive work flowing through this message. We chose to remain a part of the Advent Movement.

More recently the issues that have flowed through our midst include:  The nature of Christ, worship styles, segregated conferences, creation-evolution, homosexuality, social justice, last generation theology and ecumenism. We can get passionate about these issues and every time I turn around it seems I hear someone asking, “Where does the church stand on. . .?” as they name an issue they are concerned about.

Today’s political parties with their rhetoric have nothing on the current Adventist vitriol spewing forth on the possibility of Women’s ordination.

In the midst of all our passion, I wonder if it is time to regain an early Christian Church movement for the Adventist Church. I would call it the “Know Nothing Adventist” movement.  And we would base it on the words of the Apostle Paul who said, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  (1 Corinthians 2:2, NIV)

As we approach the season of the year when we especially dwell on the birth of Christ, let us remember that the crèche that held the incarnate infant Lord, was just the first step toward a cross where the Savior held His arms out for the world.  And that is the message, the cause, the issue this world needs more than anything else.


As Adventists, let us take up the mission of Jesus for the world.  And as a church let us commit to anything that furthers that mission. And let us affirm and encourage anyone, young or old, male or female that will put their hands to the task of spreading the message of the next Advent of Jesus Christ.

I Got “Carded!”

pruning saw“May I see you ID please?” asked the cashier at the local Lowes store. “The computer says I have to check to see if you are 18 or older.” I was being “carded!” I didn’t know whether to be complimented or concerned that she needed to see my driver’s license to validate that I was indeed 18 or older. Since I have never bought cigarettes, beer, alcohol or frequented a nightclub, this was my first experience at being carded.

It was just a simple stop at Lowes to purchase an eighteen-inch pruning saw in order to get our five peach and three apple trees ready for the summer fruit bearing season. It seems that there is some concern about individuals purchasing pruning saws that they might use them in dangerous ways. Never mind that in previous trips to Lowes I have purchased such power equipment as a garden tiller that could gouge your foot off, a walk-behind self-propelled lawn mower that could seriously slice off a hand before you even realized it, a 50” zero-turn 3-blade riding mower than could do a lot of damage to more than just grass, and other items that could be misused to cause bodily harm to unsuspecting victims, such as a hammer and several electrical cords. I was never “carded” for purchasing these other items. But a hand saw for pruning our fruit trees must be a dangerous item in the hands of an untrustworthy member of the general public!

Why prune fruit trees? If a fruit tree grows its limbs and branches in all directions, it tends to put more energy into growing branches, than it does in growing fruit. And more fruit, not branches, is the desired outcome. By constantly pruning the excess branches, the tree puts energy into producing the fruit we enjoy. In the hands of a careful gardener the tree can flourish and the harvest can increase.

When it comes to my life, the same holds true. Just as I desire my trees to produce a bountiful harvest, God desires to see the fruit of the Spirit increase and flourish in my life. Galatians 5:22, 23 lists the fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, that He desires.

For that to happen, God also does some pruning. John 15:2 gives the words of Jesus describing how God prunes our lives in order that we might bear more fruit. In order for His righteousness to be brought forth in our life, and to actually bless and benefit us, God takes up the pruning saw to cut away some things that harm us and that ultimately grow in wrong directions, or that use our energy in destructive ways. And the best part is just whose hand holds the pruning saw. We can trust the hand of God to utilize the pruning in the right places and the right time. Evidently here in American right now, there must be some concern over who is using a pruning saw and how they are using it. But in the hands of God only beneficial work is done for us when it comes to pruning harmful things out of our life. We don’t have to “card” God to see if He is safe to handle our life.


superbowl xlviiiSuper Bowl XLVIII was ready to tee up a Spiritual challenge that most people did not even realize. After all the excitement and disappointment of Super Bowl XLVIII (depending on which team you were rooting for) comes a time to reflect on what might have been.

About one and a half weeks before February 2, weather forecasters were concerned about a significant weather pattern that could dump inches of snow on the Meadowlands, New Jersey site of the Super Bowl right at game time, potentially shutting out the game. Fans wouldn’t make it through the snow-clogged roads, hotels would have cancellations, airlines would stop flights, the stadium could have awful conditions for a game, and the whole entertainment industry that is disguised as a sport in the NFL would take as great a hit as a top-flight NFL corner back going after a wide receiver in mid-field that just pulled in a completed pass.

But the NFL had some plays in their game book for just such a scenario. Contingency plans were announced that the game might be switched from the traditional Sunday time slot, to a Friday date, a Saturday date or even to a Monday date. All during the preceding week, continuously updated weather forecasts were closely monitored by the NFL to see if the big game would be changed.

Imagine what might have happened if the Super Bowl XLVIII date was moved from the traditional Sunday time slot to a Saturday time slot. For most of the sports and entertainment world, it would have become, at most, a minor event. It would still be the weekend. No employers would have to worry about their employees calling en masse to report sick on, say, a Friday or a Monday. Television coverage would still be high. Hotels would still have rooms on a weekend when business travelers were not booking. No problem, right?

Super Bowl Sabbath. How would a Seventh-day Adventist Christian respond? Especially when the sports-entertainment industry holds such a large place in the American male psyche. If Super Bowl Sabbath was the option this Super Bowl 48, what would have been your call on the field of life?

Some Christians are challenged when it comes to sporting events and the Sabbath. There is such a draw, such devotion to their team, such a following of the ups and downs, such enthusiasm for the fortunes and for their own bragging rights as fans, that a favorite sport, even on Sabbath, becomes a huge temptation. Some would be likely to give in and watch the Super Bowl with the thought, well, it only comes once a year, and this year is an exception, and I just can’t miss all the excitement. Besides, it might be Payton Manning’s final Super Bowl – or – Russell Wilson and his teammates are such good Christians and I want to see them win and then give God the glory during the victor’s interview on national television. Others would say, well, let’s just record the event that is being played on Sabbath and watch it later.

What would you do?

Where is my allegiance? Is it to being totally sold-out to the Creator, Redeemer and soon-coming Savior? Or would I sell out to a multi-billion industry that lives on and for commercial marketing?

In the game of life, Who has my allegiance?

Super Bowl Sabbath would be a true test of our complete dedication to God, and that we have “No other gods before me.” That there is no idol in our life. That every strong hold has been pulled down and only the Lord of Peace reigns in our life. To unplug during the Sabbath hours is the greatest blessing God can give us in this hectic, obsessed, driven world. For when we unplug on the Sabbath, it is not just to “empty” our life, but actually to fill it with the calm of Heaven and the presence of the Divine Himself, fellowshipping with us in ways we can never comprehend while we are wired, captivated and swirling with the hundreds of bits of input coming at us every regular day.

I would suggest that even if a Christian was to forego watching the Super Bowl live on Super Bowl Sabbath, that to record the Super Bowl on Sabbath for later watching, might be worth foregoing also. If we need that sport so much, that we would be willing for athletes to play it on the Sabbath, for stadium workers to punch the clock and work on the Sabbath, for television corporations to spend hundreds of employees salaries to work on the Sabbath, for commercials to provide for the programming on the Sabbath, that we would record it during God’s Sabbath, to watch it after the Sabbath, maybe we would still be evading the true spirit of the Sabbath. We could actually “break the Sabbath” on a later day!

When I first started ministry in Elizabethtown, KY, I was blessed to have a semi-retired, wise, older gentleman in my church, who had just joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church a year or so before I got there. A wonderful new Seventh-day Adventist with the wisdom and maturity of life, and a solid sense of integrity. I valued his observations on life and his counsel when I asked him for it, and his support when I didn’t ask for counsel. Video cassette recorders were new then, and we were talking one day about a great Louisville Cardinals basketball game that was coming up. All the basketball fans in Kentucky that weren’t University of Kentucky Wildcat fans, were University of Louisville Cardinals fans. And the Cardinals had a great team that year. The nationally ranked Cardinals had a big game coming up against one of the national powerhouses of college basketball. And the game would be on Saturday. So we were talking and I wondered how he might feel about it, since he was a new member and a Cardinals fan. I discovered right away, that when Forrest decided that Christ had called him to become a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, he had become infected with a greater love then his love for Louisville Cardinals basketball. The decision had already been made with his commitment to Christ at his baptism. He had no plans or desires to watch a Saturday or Friday night game. His vote was in, his die was cast, his choice was made, his priorities were set. So I asked him, “Well, what about taping it on a VCR? You could always watch it later?” This wise, old man didn’t take more than a second to reply (And remember, he was the NEW Adventist!). “Well,” he said, “I might as well watch it on Sabbath live, if I was going to do that.”

Here was a man who truly understood that principle is more important than passion, when it comes to a life dedicated to God. He looked beyond the mere letter keeping of the law, to the full intent of a life immersed in pleasing his Master, and a life that needed the presence of the Eternal more than it needed the passion of a fading sport.

Super Bowl Sabbath as a possibility came and went here in 2014. But what else is there that beckons you and me to place something, anything, higher than devotion to our Redeemer?

I’m still a football fan, but really, I am a fanatic for the “home” team. After all, as a Christian, I join the Apostle Paul in saying, “For our citizenship is heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20 NKJV). So my “home team” gets my complete allegiance every time.


Anger bubbled out like a cooking pot on fast boil. How could he be treated like this? He was “Somebody!” He had traveled quite a distance. He was due to be treated with deference and have his desires accorded, not dismissed out of hand. He was the type of person and had the kind of position that when he gave orders, people jumped.

But here he was left standing on the doorstep of the prophet’s house, in a foreign country. And the prophet wouldn’t even condescend to come out and talk with him. Only a message was sent through a servant to go bathe in the River Jordan. Anyone could carry a message. And anyone could go bathe in the river. He wasn’t to be treated like just anyone. Because of his position he at least expected the prophet to come and lay his hands on him, pronounce a mystical incantation and practice some kind of unusual ritual to procure a healing from leprosy.

Namaan was angry and stomped off muttering, “Just go wash in the Jordan seven times.” This was certainly not going the way he expected, no, not the way he deserved. “The prophet of Israel should do something spectacular for me,” he choked out as he roared off in a fury.

Eventually Namaan gets talked down from his anger to the point where it is only a low simmer, not a boil. He goes to the Jordan and washes after all. The miracle of healing follows and he is overjoyed and humbled into being a life-long follower of the true God.

How often are we like Namaan, seeking God to work in just the precise way we have mapped out? Or expecting God to answer our prayer within the strict time frame that fits our schedule and will make all the unpleasant issues we are concerned about fall into place?

The expectations we have of God when presenting our needs and requests can sometimes fall into the same attitude that Namaan had. We know what we need, we know when we need it, and we know how it needs to be done. We just need God to show up, move majestically into our life, give some spectacular results and let everyone know just what “pull” we must have to get the answer to our need in such a miraculous fashion. When it doesn’t necessarily go that way, do we ride off in a huff, anger boiling out, scalding our willingness to “wait on the Lord?” God’s word encourages us to: “Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!” Psalm 27:14. (NKJV)

The life experience of Namaan inspires us to quietly seek the Lord for our needs, then trust Him even when the answer may not come in the fashion we have already determined would be the most convenient or logical answer. Healing and hope will come. It just may take longer or may take a different route than we might have convinced ourselves that God must use.

It’s not just Namaan in the Old Testament that can learn to trust and accept the Lord’s timing and direction. I believe the great lesson for God’s people is to trust, especially by those eagerly anticipating the soon return of Christ in these last days. There is strength in His promise, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5,6. (NKJV)


He had been my friend, I discovered to my dismay. We had first met at seminary where we were both students. He had been a classmate of Jeanne’s in academy and they were friends who enjoyed a good banter back and forth through their time in secondary school. Now the woman who had gingerly starting attending my church in South Carolina was telling me that she was having trouble coming back to church and difficulty in trusting a pastor. And although she didn’t know the effect it was having on me, she was saying that it was all because of my friend, who I hadn’t seen now in several years.

The woman and her husband had started slipping in to my 500 member church infrequently and then slipping out, choosing not to get close to anyone or connect with any members. After a few months this couple quietly sat down to talk with Jeanne and me and gingerly let us know what had made them so skittish about church.

In turns out that her former pastor in Colorado had starting noticing her and then becoming emotionally close to her, or at least encouraging her to become emotionally close to him. One thing led to another, and she accepted his interest and then his advances. As she told us of her story, and her shame at receiving and responding to his attention, and the damage it had done eventually to the marriage she and her husband were attempting to repair, she also revealed what a nearly unrepairable effect this was having on her spiritual experience and her connection with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, since this was her church and the pastor of her church that had used his position as spiritual leader, to move into her life for his own emotional conquest and sexual adventure. In fact, after getting free from this emotionally and spiritually abusive relationship, she found out that several other female parishioners in the same region had been involved with this same pastor. He even looked across his congregation from the center of the worship service and decided who to attempt to hit own, successfully with several. Now, she was having difficulty deciding that church was a safe place, a healthy spiritual place, with leaders that could be trusted, with pastors that would not take advantage of their position for their own purposes. In South Carolina, she was beginning the process, after many years, of trying to re-establish her own ability to trust God, trust a pastor, and trust a Church.

Now, I was discovering, to my dismay, it was my friend from many years earlier, who had inflicted the emotional and spiritual damage on this woman. At the time she came to our church, her former pastor was no longer serving as a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, and was no longer married to his attractive, intelligent and devoted wife of many years.

Just about every pastor I know is trustworthy and acts with integrity. But you and I may find someone who has had some prior experience, somewhere, that they are too ashamed to talk about. Some experience that leaves them questioning if they can trust God. Some experience that has led them to give up on Church. Some experience that scars them in a way that no one else can understand. Some experience that those listening might assume it was their own fault for what happened, and that if the victim was just strong enough spiritually, emotionally, intelligently, they would have been able to miss what was coming or to resist it.

There may be someone you know that has been a victim of clergy abuse. Not that you need to suspect every pastor. Likely, there is no pastor you know who who abuses their position to prey on others. But you may meet a victim sometime, who is brave enough to tentatively open up to you.

What can you do at those times? Tell them that they must have misunderstood the whole situation? Tell them that no pastor would ever do that to anyone, after all, they are a spiritual leader? Tell them that no pastor can ever be trusted? Just shrug it off and tell them to move on? Just listen and pat their hand?

One of the most healing and practical things you can do is listen, take them seriously and then put them in touch with the Seventh-day Adventist lay-ministry and ASI member, The Hope of Survivors (THOS). THOS serves victims of clergy abuse from all denominations. They understand. They provide tangible services of comfort and healing. They have spent years counseling and supporting the emotional and spiritual recovery of hundreds of individuals in the US and multiple countries.

August is Clergy Abuse Awareness Month. More than being aware of clergy abuse, as tragic and harmful as that is, I would encourage you to be aware of a tremendous resource that God has raised up in the Adventist family, to be used of God to aid in recovery and restoration. The Hope of Survivors.

There are some great resources for pastors in assisting victims and in learning more about this issue, along with resources for victims and for those supportive of victims.

THOS pix


The issue of the Last Days – How much do we value the Grace of God, that is able to restore us and to place us into the Family of Heaven, and make us co-heirs with Jesus Christ?

The Banquet didn’t turn out the way it was planned! All 4 gospels tell this story
Luke 7:36-50
Matthew 26:6-13
Mark 14:3-9
John 12:1-8

Matthew, Mark and John –These three out of the four — focus on the cost of the spikenard, that it was 1 year’s wages, and that it might have been sold and given to the poor.
Matthew, Mark and Luke show Simon to be the central character.
Matthew and Mark also identify Simon as a Leper

Only John names Lazarus, Mary and Martha by name as being there. Lazarus at the table, Martha serving and Mary as the one to anoint Jesus with Spikenard. Only John names Judas as the one critical of the expensive gift and questioning if it should have been given to the poor, while he was a thief of those funds. However, John doesn’t name the very host of the feast.

Of the 3 Synoptic gospels and the gospel of John, only Luke names the host as Simon.
The full account is ini Luke 7:36-50
Luke gives us an additional insight into transforming grace and points us to a deeper significance than the cost of the anointing oil.

Simon is here identified as a Pharisee, and the central lesson here is not the cost of the oil, but the cost of Grace, or more accurately, the value the recipient of Grace, places on Grace.

In Luke’s account of this true life story of Jesus, there are 3 principal characters.

1. Simon.
What do we know about Simon?
A. He is a Pharisee. Pharisees wanted to serve the Lord faithfully. They were eager to be sincere, religious, faithful, obedient, holy, responsible, avoiding sin by rigorously keeping the law. Seeking to avoid entering into sin like earlier generations and falling under the judgments of God.
B. He is identified and known as a leper.
C. He is providing this feast for Jesus. Jesus had healed him from leprosy, otherwise he would not be able to be in his house, and serving as host to many others at a feast.
D. If not for Jesus’ healing, Simon likely would have still been a leper.
E. If not for Jesus’ healing, he would have been still an outcast.

2. The woman.
What do we know about “the woman?”
A. She was off the city where the feast was held.
B. She was a sinner.
C. She knew that Jesus was at this feast.
D. She anointed Jesus with one pound of fragrant oil, spikenard, kept in alabaster, worth at least 1 year’s wages. (compute that into your own annual salary).
E. She is identified as Mary, and her brother Lazarus and sister Martha are already at this feast. She has family here.
F. She was known by Simon and others to definitely be a sinner.
G. She was led into sin by Simon (DA p. 566)
H. Seven times she had demons cast out of her by Jesus (DA p. 568)

3. Jesus
What do we know about Jesus?
Oh, the list could be endless
A. He healed Simon of leprosy.
B. He forgave Simon’s sins
C. He cast out the demons from Mary 7 times.
D. He forgave Mary’s sins.
E. He freely accepted Mary’s gift and defended her from the critics and from Simon.
F. He revealed to Simon’s heart Simon’s true character in a way that melted Simon’s proud, judgmental, critical and score-keeping heart.

Where do you see yourself, in one of these 3 main characters of this story?
Simon – Mary – Jesus

Jesus tells a story to Simon. It is only recorded here in Luke.
Two men owe the same man a debt.
One man, 500 denarii – a year and a half or more wages.
The other man, 50 denarii – just short of two months wages.
Neither could repay. So the man who was owed the money forgave them both.

The moral of the story is not, who was forgiven most, or even who loved him most.
It is – Neither man could repay the debt. At all. No way.
And the holder of the mortgage freely cancelled both debts.

The real moral of the story is:
When you HAVE received GRACE, how much is it worth to you?

Simon received just as great a gift as Mary. He had his sins forgiven. He was healed from a living death.
But Simon had not accepted the Grace, since it had not internalized and changed his heart.

“Simon of Bethany was accounted a disciple of Jesus. He was one of the few Pharisees who had openly joined Christ’s followers. He acknowledged Jesus as a teacher, and hoped that He might be the Messiah, but he had not accepted Him as a Saviour. His character was not transformed; his principles were unchanged.” DA p. 557

Simon’s life is a description of head knowledge, but not heart experience. Full of facts, while flat in faith.

Simon felt a social obligation to somehow acknowledge and show appreciation for his healing from leprosy. But as a good Pharisee, careful to keep track of all the minute religious expectations, he didn’t want to go too far in getting tied up with Jesus. So Simon gave the feast, but he did not offer the usual and standard hospitality services – greeting with affection one invited to your house for a meal, washing the feet and anointing with oil.

Simon did not fully receive and value the Grace that he had been given.

The crying need among true Christians today, that which will ready members of the Adventist Church, or any other church in the last days, is to have the GRACE of Christ totally break upon our hearts. Melt our hearts. .
Shatter our idols. Blast our self-sufficiency. Bury our pride. Strip away all faulty motivations to religiosity. And instead, fill our hearts with the complete realization that only “Christ’s righteousness ALONE can avail for (our) his salvation, and this is the gift of God.” (1 SM p. 331).

The reception of that Grace is what has the power to transform the life. My life. Your life. Your church member’s lives.

Grace, fully realized and fully received, is the full motivation to fully follow Christ and to be able to stand in the last days – to endure to the end – and meet Jesus with full assurance as the earth falls while the skies open to usher our Saviors magnificent return.

A true understanding of Grace is the only motivator to the godly life here in the last days.

That’s how it worked for Simon–
“He saw the magnitude of the debt which he owed his Lord, and became a humble, self-sacrificing man.
When we realize the full debt of obligation to our Saviour, we are united to him by closer bonds, and our love will be expressed in all our acts. … There is no sacrifice too costly to be offered on the altar of our faith. ”
ST October 9, 1879 par. 21, 22

That’s how it worked for Simon. That is how it will work for you, for me, for our members. That is the only way it works.

How much do you value the grace that is offered to you?


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