Category Archives: Bible

“Catching the Holy Spirit”

Catching the HS

When you grow up and are involved in church life, you hear a lot of things, a lot of sayings, especially if you visit churches of a different denominational stripe than your own. I will never forget the time I heard someone use the phrase, “Catching the Holy Spirit.”

“Boy, did you see Sister So-and-So today? She caught the Holy Ghost during worship service today. She was shouting all over the place.”

“Wasn’t service awesome this morning? I saw you catch the Holy Spirit today when you were singing and crying.”

“The Holy Spirit must have really come upon you today because you were raising your hand during worship, which is something you rarely do.”

And the examples could go on and on. Am I about to strain at – what some would consider – a theological gnat in this post? I wouldn’t say that. However, I do think this issue is important enough to address because there are unhealthy spiritual and theological ramifications that could result for embracing such an idea.

But before we delve into this topic, I need to make something clear. Human emotions have a place in the worship of God. Psalms give evidence of this. This hymn book of Israel captures the affections we are to display in praise and worship to our God.

“Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.” (Psalm 32:11)

“Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!” (Psalm 47:1)

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (Psalm 103:1)

When centered on the character, acts, and word/gospel of God, praising and worshipping God with emotion is an appropriate response. The truth of and about God must be at the wheel of our worship (and our lives). But if we allow our emotions or feelings to occupy the driver’s seat, we can easily find ourselves spiritually careening off into terrain that is dangerous and damaging to our souls. This point may seem like I have digressed from the subject at hand. I assure you I have not because it is related to this idea of “catching the Holy Spirit,” which you will see in a moment.

Here are four potential ways in which the acceptance of this phrase “Catching the Holy Spirit” is spiritually detrimental to our lives:

It equates the evidence of God the Holy Spirit being in our lives with a specific emotion, feeling, or response.

For example, there are those who, if they do not have a certain experience during corporate worship or in their personal devotional time with Jesus (i.e., crying, a warm sensation over or in their bodies, shouting, dancing, kneeling, sitting, laughter, etc.), erroneously conclude that because they did not feel, respond, or emote a certain way in those moments that maybe they missed the move of the Holy Spirit or that he was not active among them, or, even worse, that he had perhaps departed from their lives due to sin.

Brothers and sisters, there is no doubt that when the Holy Spirit impresses the truth of Scripture (whether through song or preaching) on our hearts, we will at times emote, feel, or respond with exuberance or solemnity. But the evidence of God the Holy Spirit being present in us has more to do with the fruit we exhibit in our lives (see Galatians 5:22-23) than a feeling/emotion/response we experience in a worship service.

It mistakes the person of God the Holy Spirit to be that of a force or power.

The Holy Spirit is not an it, a thing, a feeling, or a power. He is the Third Person of the Godhead or Trinity. He is not something you catch, but rather someone you obey. We are not to grieve, quench, or sin against him. We walk after him. We submit to him. We revere him.

It intimates that the presence of God the Holy Spirit is primarily outside of us rather than inside of us.

To catch the Holy Spirit implies that he is primarily present outside of us. This is not how the Scripture, specifically the New Testament, speaks of his presence in our lives. We don’t have to welcome him into the room when we gather for corporate worship as the church.  He does not need to be invited into a service or into the hearts of believers. And we don’t have to worry about him leaving us. He is forever present with us because he permanently indwells us (John 14:15-17; Ephesians 1:13-14; 2 Corinthians 1:22).

It reduces, in our minds, the work of God the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Adopting this phrase, this belief can lead us to think that the Holy Spirit’s involvement in our lives takes place largely on Sunday mornings during our designated corporate worship time. This severely limits and reduces our understanding of His work in our lives as Christians. What he does in our lives is not relegated to an hour or two on weekends, nor is it solely about giving us a feeling of euphoria. He does much more than that on and beyond Sundays.

  • He makes us into Jesus’ image.
  • He comforts us in our affliction.
  • He convicts us of our sin.
  • He illuminates our minds/hearts to understand the Scriptures and the immensity of God’s love for us in Jesus.
  • He strengthens us to serve the church (through general acts of service and the exercising of our specific spiritual gift or gifts that he has given us).
  • He guides us into the Father’s will for our lives.
  • He assures us of our salvation in Jesus.
  • He prays to the Father on our behalf.
  • He empowers us to preach the Good News of Jesus to the lost.

So, in light of this, I encourage you to retire the phrase, “Catching the Holy Spirit”, and embrace the concept Paul gives us in Ephesians 5:18 related to the Holy Spirit:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit

Being filled with the Spirit has to do with allowing yourself to be led by him (according to the Scripture) on a continual basis. It is about living life under his influence. There is no need to catch him; yielding to his control in and over your life will be just fine.

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Submission Isn’t For Your Wife Only, Brother

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If there is one verse that guys have memorized, it is Ephesians 5:22, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” Yet many of us have misconceptions about submission and thus misapply it in the context of our marriages. Our view of submission almost, at times, seems to closely resemble the “She’s Your Queen To Be” scene from the 1988 classic movie Coming to America more than it does the Bible. Prince Akeem (played by Eddie Murphy), heir to the throne of Zamunda, is introduced to his arranged-bride-to-be, Imani Izzi (played by Vanessa Bell Calloway). Prince Akeem kindly leans over to Imani and asks to speak to her in private. He escorts her into a private chamber to have a conversation.

Prince Akeem: “So…”

Imani Izzi: “Ever since I was born, I’ve been trained to serve you.”

Prince Akeem: “Yes, I know this. But I would like to know about you. What do you like to do?”

Imani Izzi: “Whatever you like.”

Prince Akeem: “What kind of music do you like?”

Imani Izzi: “Whatever kind of music you like.”

Prince Akeem: “Look, I know what I like. And I know you know what I like because you are trained to know what I like, but I would like to know what you like. For instance, do you have a favorite food?”

Imani Izzi: “Yes.”

Prince Akeem: “Good! What is your favorite food?”

Imani Izzi: “Whatever food you like.”

Prince Akeem: “Are you saying that no matter what I tell you to do you will do?”

Imani Izzi: “Yes, your highness.”

Prince Akeem: “Anything I say you’ll do?”

Imani Izzi: “Yes, your highness.”

Prince Akeem: “Bark like a dog.”

And then the awkward hilarity commences. She complies and barks like a dog, and according to Prince Akeem’s other requests, even hops on one leg and makes a noise like an orangutan. We all know that is Hollywood, but in reality there are unfortunately men who want, expect, and even demand robotic submission from their wives. Don’t express your opinion, no matter how respectful the tone and approach, unless it is solicited. Agree with everything we do. And definitely don’t lovingly hold us accountable. Just do as we say and all will be well. This is submission, some think. It might be that way in a movie, but not in real life and especially not according to God’s script.

So my aim is simply to help us as husbands to understand biblical submission. To begin, I want to bring to the surface two common beliefs many men in general, and husbands in particular, hold to as it relates to submission, and examine them under the microscope of God’s word to see if they are true.

Submission is for Women

Is submission solely relegated to our female counterparts? In other words, is submission for women only? The answer is no. If you take a cursory read through the New Testament letters, you will discover that submission is a virtue of the Christian life and, therefore, applicable to all believers, no matter your gender.

 All Christians Submit to Jesus. Interestingly enough, in the very same passage of the verse that was just referenced at the outset of this chapter, Paul uses this idea of the church, or all Christians, submitting to Jesus as an example of how wives should submit to their husbands. He writes, “Now as the church submits to Christ…” (Ephesians 5:24a). Submission is a way of life that is to be continually exhibited by all Christ-followers, men and women alike.

All Christians Submit to their Parents. Paul commands us as children to obey our parents in the Lord (Ephesians 6:1; also cf. Colossians 3:20), whether we were raised by a father and mother, a single mom or dad, grandparents or some other relative, or foster parents. And even though we are married and living in our own place, this command is still valid. The dynamics of it look different now, of course. So, although we are not directly under their authority anymore, when we go home, for example, to Mom’s and/or Dad’s place, it is their house, their rules.

All Christians Submit to the Elders/Pastors of their Local Church. When we join in covenant membership with a local church, we come under the pastoral leadership, care, and preaching and teaching of those elders/pastors. The writer of Hebrews instructs all believers to “obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)

All Christians Submit to the Governing Authorities. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, directs all of us Christ-followers in Romans 13:1ff to individually submit ourselves to the governing authorities. If there ever was a morally loose and corrupt, and religiously idolatrous, pluralistic and syncretistic government, it was the Roman Empire. And yet Paul commands the believers in that sociopolitical context to submit to the authorities. So it is for us in America and for our other brothers and sisters in Christ in other countries around the world as well. Should Christians be involved in politics to help shape and steer legislation according to God’s word? Absolutely. Is there a time for civil disobedience? I am sure there is, especially those believers who find themselves in closed countries (i.e., where the government is explicitly hostile towards Christianity). But, overall, we are to submit to, honor, and respect our governing officials and authorities, from the President to the police officer. Regardless of how democratic a government is, it will never be perfect because flawed, sinful, and even lost human beings are involved. But that does not circumvent our obedience to the Lord Jesus in submitting to the authorities he has established and sanctioned, as long as they are appropriately executing their authority according to, and informed by, God’s word.

Women Should Be Made To Submit

Quite frankly, this is just absurd. Excuse me for being passionate and straightforward when it comes to this point. But this idea of husbands feeling justified in their passive or aggressive attempts to bring their wives in subjection to them is patently unbiblical. I would even go so far as to say that if we seek to do such a thing we are sinning against God and our wives and need to repent. On what basis can I make such an indictment? Fair question. And I don’t think it will be difficult to substantiate. There is a real simple explanation. Let’s go back and read Ephesians 5:22, 24: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord….Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything their husbands.” Who does Paul address in these verses? Wives. To whom is the command directed? Wives. So who is responsible for carrying out this divine instruction? You guessed it…wives. Submission in marriage is the sacred responsibility of our wives to fulfill out of reverence for the Lord Jesus. It is up to them to see to it that they respect us (Ephesians 5:33). Did it say anywhere in those two verses about husbands forcing this upon their wives? No. Absolutely not. God will always call a foul on us when we seek to force them into submission. Any attempt to manipulate or threaten our wives into submitting to our leadership is an offense against them and God and an insidious abuse of our headship as husbands.

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Note: This article is adapted from a portion of the chapter “Understanding Submission” in my book Husbands By Design: A Biblical Blueprint of Godly Husbands. To read more, purchase your copy here.

Prayer and the Purposes of God

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I have heard the following said at various times and in various ways: “The purposes of God do not just happen [in our lives and world] just because he wants them to. Someone has to pray it.” Brothers and sisters, everything that sounds good isn’t good.

Now, I don’t wish to come off as being nitpicky or harsh. I am a preacher, a flawed and imperfect one, of course. So I am certain I have had my share of theological gaffes. When such blunders are made, a person will either, in the speaking moment, catch himself and make the correction on the spot, or may come to the knowledge of his mistake afterwards and issue a retraction and correction in some form. Unfortunately, in some cases – and specifically the one that was the impetus behind my writing of this article – that does not happen. With this particular situation that I am thinking of, the speaker didn’t even seem to think he had committed a doctrinally faux pas. But he did. And here is why.

To use the definite article “the” in connection with “purposes of God” says to the hearer that whatever the speaker says next applies to all of God’s purposes. So, with this in mind, when we add in the rest of the statement, here is what was being communicated: None of what God purposes happens simply because he desires it. Someone has to pray for it to become a reality in our lives and in the world, otherwise it won’t.

Of course, some would say, “Ed, come on now. If you would give a charitable listen to what he said, you would understand he was not meaning to refer to all of God’s purposes but to some of them.” Even if that was what he really meant to communicate and just botched it, that train of thought and assertion is still biblically and theologically troubling.

All of God’s purposes – from the workings of his creation to human affairs to his grand redemptive plan in Christ – happen precisely because he wants them to (Psalm 135:6; 115:3); and some he has ordained to arrive on the wings of our prayers (e.g., James 5:16b-17).

We ought not think our prayers to be inconsequential to God’s purposes being fulfilled; but neither should we think them to be indispensable to the same. God does not need our prayers in order for him to do his work. But he does his work in many ways through our prayers.

Prayer is not intended to change God’s purpose, nor is it to move Him to form fresh purposes. God has decreed that certain events shall come to pass through the means He has appointed for their accomplishment.

Arthur W. Pink

Forgiveness: Who Is It Really For?

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“Forgiveness is not really for the one who did you wrong; it is for you.”

I’ve heard that statement or some variation of it before, and you may have too.  The classic illustration and train of thought that usually accompanies it goes something like this: Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping for the other person to die. It only hurts you in the long run. So, therefore, you should forgive the other person, not necessarily for the good of the one who hurt you, but for your own. It helps you not to become angry, bitter, resentful, and full of hatred. Forgiveness more than anything else is about self-love.

This all sounds good and right. But the questions we must ask ourselves as Christians are: Does this way of viewing forgiveness square with Scripture? Does God primarily call us to forgive for our own benefit? Is self-love the principal reason or motivation for why we should forgive someone who has sinned against us? Is forgiveness, at its core, really for – and about – us?

A cursory look at two passages of Scripture will sufficiently and succinctly answer these questions:

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

“…if one has a compliant against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)

Did you catch the primary motivating reason in those verses for why we should forgive?

Is it self-love? No.

Is it so you won’t be depressed? No.

Is it about you being free and happy? No.

The reason we should forgive is because we have been forgiven by God in Christ Jesus. We forgive because we have been forgiven.

Are there some resulting benefits we experience by forgiving others who sin against us? Sure. But they are not central to why we should forgive.

Forgiving others in Jesus’ name is not ultimately about or for us, or about or for the offender. It is about Jesus and for God’s glory.

God: Our Promise Keeper (A Study of the Book of Joshua)

 

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To date, I have taught through the following in their entirety: 1 and 2 Peter, Titus, Joel, Ephesians, and 1 Corinthians. Yesterday, I began a new teaching series on the book of Joshua. This, as you can see, is my first time attempting to teach through an Old Testament Historical Narrative book of the Bible. And I can already tell it is going to be a challenge at points. For example, how does one teach on the apportioning of land to the tribes of Israel that essentially takes up chapters 13 through 21 without causing the eyes of those attending the class from glazing over? At this point, I am not at all sure how I will manage this task. I guess I will see how the Lord helps me when I get there. But I am looking forward to laboring through this book with the help of God.

So, we tackled chapter one verses one through nine (we actually made it through verse 5 and will pick up from there this coming Sunday) in a lesson I simply entitled, “Commissioned by God”. The book begins this way, “After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.'” (Joshua 1:1-2; ESV)

After familiarizing the class with the two central characters who are mentioned in the opening verses (i.e., Moses and Joshua), I honed our attention back on these words of our LORD to Joshua, “After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise…'” At first glance, this doesn’t seem all that crucial or relevant. Oh, but it is! Throughout the lesson, I sought to highlight, what I called, points of truth. Here is the one I laid out before the class based on verse one:

The purposes of God are not hindered or halted by the deaths (or one could even extend this to say a person’s removal, resignation, or reassignment from leadership, perhaps even in other arenas of life) of those through whom God worked mightily. Here is Moses whom God used in such a major way to bring about the deliverance of the people of Israel from Egyptian slavery and who led them through 40 years of wandering in the wilderness and positioned them at the gates of the Promised Land, east of the Jordan River. This Moses is now dead. The question that looms large is: Is God’s agenda for His people in jeopardy of not being fulfilled due to the passing of such a revered and significant leader in the life and journey of the people of Israel? Not at all! The determinative will of God for the people of God is never contingent upon a man of God.

I love how D.R. Davis puts it in his book, No Falling Words: Expositions of the Book of Joshua. He writes, “Yahweh’s fidelity does not hinge on the achievement of men, however gifted they may be, nor does it evaporate in the face of funerals or rivers.”

Simply put, people will come and go, but God’s purposes for our lives – both collectively as a church and individually as believers – will remain. So whether your church has lost a revered and respected leader, or you lost someone who played a significant role in your life and development, or, on the negative side, someone deserted or divorced you for no good biblical reason, may this truth be a source of encouragement for you today.

How Long, Lord?

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You have a sense God has more or something else for you to do.

The Holy Spirit has impressed upon your heart that there is ________ in store for you.

Jesus has given you a vision, a dream to launch a business or ministry for His glory and the good of others.

And yet here you are. In the same spot. It’s as if God has you at the gate or on the runway, but won’t give you the green light to take off. You’ve prayed and cried. Cried and prayed. Fasted and prayed some more. You so desperately want it to come to fruition, and maybe have even tried to make it happen, but the door remains closed. What’s the hold up, God? How long will it be before I see this dream – what I sincerely believe to be Your dream for my life – come to pass? To be honest, I’ve been there…just the other day in fact. Unfortunately I can’t answer those questions. But what I can offer you is some encouragement. Here is an excerpt from my book, “Beyond the Dream: Transitioning from a Dream to its Fulfillment in Your Life.” I pray it strengthens you.

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How old was Joseph when he first received his dream from God? He was around seventeen years old (Gen. 37:2, 5). And now how old is he? He’s thirty. Many years passed before Joseph was even in the position to see God’s dream come to pass in his life! From the time Joseph received God’s dream to its fulfillment was at least thirteen years. That is a pretty good length of time. Why am I pointing this out? What does this have to do with you and me? Well, when God placed certain dreams on my heart, I expected it to happen pretty quickly, and you have probably expected the same. What I have come to learn, however, is that God’s fulfillment of His dreams for my life sometimes takes longer than I expect. Knowing this then, what are we to do? Here is the next lesson: Lesson #3 – Be Patient The Practice of Patience That statement seems pretty simple in theory, but in practice, it can be very challenging. I have to be honest here and admit that this was (and still is to some degree) the most difficult part of the process for me. I don’t like to wait, especially when I am waiting longer than I anticipated. Can you relate to that? What made waiting even more cumbersome to me was when I began to see God do similar, if not exact things for other people what I knew He had in store for me. I would ask or say things to God like,

  •  “Why is it that you are allowing them to [insert your dream job or ministry here] and I am still in my current position?”
  • “God, some of them are younger than me,” or “Some of them don’t even have the education or experience I have.” (How arrogant of me, right? As if those two things are the reasons why God should have brought his dream to pass in my life sooner.)
  • “God, they didn’t have to wait as long as I am having to” (or at least it seemed that way to me).
  • “Is something wrong with me that is keeping me from seeing your dream come to pass in my life right now? Is there something that I am not doing?”
  • “Why hasn’t it happened yet?”
  • “How long, Lord, is this going to take? You do know how old I am, right?”

And the questioning would go on and on. No matter how many questions I asked or how many times I would come to God in prayer, repetitiously asking the same questions, the Holy Spirit would always remind me to be patient. He would remind me that I was not the only one who has ever had to wait on God and that not all delays are due to disobedience. The Bible is replete with examples. Here are just a few along with some characteristics about God that will prove helpful to you while in this waiting stage:

  • Abraham – God promised Abraham that he would have an heir, a son, who would come forth from his own body (Gen. 15:4) through Sarah (Gen. 17:15-16; 18:10). How long did it take before God brought it to pass? Let’s add it up. Abraham departed from Haran, his home, and headed to Canaan at the age of seventy-five (Gen. 12:4). Shortly thereafter God spoke to Abraham about having a son (Gen. 15:4). After Hagar gave birth to Ishmael (Gen. 16), God clarified for Abraham, who was now ninety-nine years old (Gen. 17:1), that he and Sarah would have a son to be named Isaac (Gen. 17:19). Abraham was at the ripe old age of one hundred when Isaac was born (Genesis 21:5). So from the initial promise in chapter 12 to its fulfillment in chapter 21, Abraham had to wait roughly twenty-five years.

God is all-powerful. Nothing is impossible for Him. Sometimes God will cause us to wait until circumstances are beyond our ability so that we might clearly see that He was the one responsible for bringing the promise (or dream) to pass.

  •  The People of Israel – After Joseph died a new king arose over Egypt and enslaved the people of Israel (Ex. 1:6-14). God heard the cry of His people (Ex. 2:23-25) and called Moses to lead them out of Egyptian slavery (Ex. 3:1-10). At the time of their exodus or emancipation, the people of Israel had waited 430 years (Ex. 12:41) for God to deliver them.

God is all-knowing. He doesn’t have amnesia. No matter how long it has been since God has revealed His promise or dream to you, He never forgets. What He promised you hasn’t slipped His mind. He hasn’t forgotten about the dream. It will come to fruition. God is sovereign. He reigns and rules! It doesn’t matter who is in charge, or has some form of human authority over you or over a specific situation, or who might be trying to keep God’s dream from being fulfilled in your life, God is ultimately in control and what He desires for you will come to pass. No one can prevent what God has planned for you.

  • Hannah – For an undisclosed number of years (1 Sam. 1:7), Hannah petitioned and waited on God for a son and endured the cruelty and provocation of her husband’s second wife (1 Sam. 1:6-7) before God granted her request (1 Sam. 1:19-20).

God is good. We don’t just have a God who is in control and does what He wants; we have a God who is good and who loves us. We can trust that whatever our heavenly Father does for us or allows us to experience (good or bad) it will be for His glory and our good. Romans 8:28 says it this way, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

  • David – In 1 Samuel 16 we read about how David was anointed to be king of Israel. He began to rule over all Israel at the age of thirty (2 Sam. 5:1-4). At the time of his anointing by Samuel, David was probably in his teenage years. If this is accurate, then we can safely say that David waited at least 11 years before he became king over all Israel.
  • Jesus – The Savior of the world had to wait until he was thirty years of age before beginning his public ministry. And then it took around three years to prepare his apostles and disciples and set the stage for his main purpose for coming to earth, which was to provide salvation to humanity by dying for our sins and rising from the dead. After forty days of appearing to various groups of his disciples, He would later ascend back to the Father, send the Holy Spirit, and launch the church on mission in the world.

But that was not all that the Holy Spirit brought to my mind. After I would question and after I finished kicking and screaming, He began to lovingly yet firmly impress this truth on my heart and mind: My tantrums were not going to change His timing. My sulking wasn’t going to alter His schedule. That was a hard pill to swallow, but it was true. The issue now was how I was going to wait. You see, I had two choices to choose from: 1. Wait on God contemptuously, or 2. Wait on God calmly (and actively). No matter what I chose to do I was still going to have to wait. There was no changing that fact. If I chose number one, then it would demonstrate, among many things, that I trust my own judgment; that is, I think I know when it is best for something to occur in my life. This is a dangerous place to be because when we take on this attitude, we tend to do things in haste and jump ahead of God, or worse, disobey Him. Because obviously—we feel or think to ourselves—God doesn’t know what He is doing, or is unaware of our situation or unable to do anything about it, or He is not good because it has yet to come to pass in the time frame that we think it should if He really cared for us. But none of those things are true about God at all. If I chose number two, then it would show that I trust God’s wisdom, sovereignty, and goodness to fulfill His dream for my life at the appropriate and perfect time, as determined by Him. I used the word actively above because waiting on God usually doesn’t mean that you are just to sit by passively and not do anything. Quite often, God expects us to do something while we wait on Him. While you are waiting on God to provide a job, he expects you to prayerfully do some job searching and send out your resume. While you are waiting on God to give you the green light to start your own business, he expects you to prayerfully put together the business plan. While you are waiting on God to show you which college to go to, he expects you to apply. Here is a truth for you to meditate on: God often works in tandem with us. Do you remember when Moses and the people of Israel were standing at the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army in hot pursuit behind them? What did God tell Moses to do? Did he say, “Just sit here passively, Moses, and wait on me?” No. He said, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward. As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land” (Ex. 14:15-16). As Moses did what he was supposed to do, the Lord did what only He could do, “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided” (Ex. 14:21). You stretch out and God will sweep back. How long is it going to be before you arrive at God’s dream destination for your life? I don’t know. I can’t answer that question for you. But I can encourage you to be patient and remember that God hasn’t forgotten about His plans for your life. He will bring them to pass in due time. Trust that He is in control, has all wisdom and knowledge, and is always good. Waiting on the Lord to do what He has revealed to you will never end in ultimate disappointment. God always delivers on what He determines. You may just have to wait a little bit before you see it come to reality. Wait on the Lord! He will not fail.

Cultural Christianity

I didn’t coin this term (and I am not sure who did). I have, however, heard it used in interviews and sermons to describe those who associate – albeit loosely, even though they wouldn’t see it that way – with Christianity, but are in many ways not actually adherents of it. They are for the most part Christian in name only. They are cultural “Christians”.

I am sure this phenomenon is a reality in many regions of our nation, but I have found it to be especially true here in the South where you are likely to find at least two churches within blocks of each other, if not on the same one, and where a large segment of the population identifies themselves as Christian. Making mention of the vast number of churches in this region is not a slight in any way. How I pray for more Gospel-centered, Bible-regulated, Holy Spirit-filled, mission-focused churches here and beyond. I only make note of it because it provides some credence to this claim. The Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project lends further evidence to the affirmative. When you combine all three Protestant categories, 57% of those polled say they are affiliated with Christianity. That number jumps up to around 80% when you add in the Catholic tradition.

Though many people would check the Christianity box on a survey, it wouldn’t be true. As Jesus put it, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven…” (Matthew 7:21a; ESV) Well, how can one know whether he or she is truly a Christian? I think a good way to determine this is to place five common characteristics of cultural ‘Christianity” side-by-side with those of authentic Christianity. I am sure there may be more than five, but these are the ones I have observed from my vantage point.

Cultural “Christianity”

  1. Knows about Jesus (familiar with the Bible and believes in the existence of Jesus), but hasn’t turned from sin and trusted him personally (Acts 26:24-29)
  2. Does religious and good deeds (e.g., attends church, gives, serves in ministry, etc.) in an effort to justify themselves before God and earn eternal life/forgiveness – a works-based salvation (Acts 15:1)
  3. Exhibits general assent to the person and work of Jesus devoid of personal faith as evidenced through no life-change and continuance in sin without repentance (1 John 3:6b, 8, 10)
  4. Does not have the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9b)
  5. Lacks love for others and the church (1 John 3:10b, 14b-15, 4:8)

Authentic Christianity

  1. Knows Jesus through personal repentance of sin and faith in his Gospel (John 1:12-13, 3:16; Ephesians 2:8)
  2. Does religious and good deeds in an effort to please God because of being granted eternal life/forgiveness through faith in the Lord Jesus – a faith-based salvation (Romans 3:21-25a, 5:1; Ephesians 2:10)
  3. Exhibits personal belief in the person and work of Jesus as evidenced through distinct life-change and a continual Spirit-enabled practice of righteous living and turning from sin (1 John 3:6a, 9)
  4. Does have the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9a; 1 John 4:13) who produces a lifestyle that progressively demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit instead of the works of the sinful flesh (Galatians 5:16-24)
  5. Increasingly demonstrates Jesus-like love (i.e., selfless, sacrificial) towards others and the church due to personal acceptance of the Gospel of Jesus by faith (1 John 3:14, 4:7, 9-10, 19)

So looking at these two lists, where would you say you are? Where do you stand with God? Are you a cultural “Christian” or an authentic one? If you fit the description of the former, you are actually a “churched”/religious non-Christian. I know that sounds quite direct in tone, but please understand it is spoken in love. The stakes are too high to speak any other way. Your eternal destiny hangs in the balance. The good news though is that you can move over to the latter. You can become an authentic Christian. What must you do? Believe on the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

“And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

(1 John 5:11-12; ESV)

Trust in Jesus today, my friend.

Keeping the Faith in College

This past Saturday, our church held a College Fair and Expo day. I was asked to conduct four to five 30-minute workshop sessions on “Keeping the Faith in College.” This post is based on the handout that I prepared for the students.

INTRODUCTION

When you think about college – especially for those of you who are going off to school – what comes to mind? Almost every student would probably answer: Independence! Who doesn’t look to be out on their own in some measure, right? Parent(s) no longer looking over your shoulder (as much), keeping tabs on where you are going, or who you are talking to, texting, or Instagramming. Oh the joy!

But college is not just about spreading your wings and “flying out the coop.” It is also about intersections. Your life is about to cross paths with people from different backgrounds and cultures. Some with whom you will establish significant associations or friendships. Additionally, you will encounter a mixmaster of philosophical and/or religious ideas.

Some will be communicated to you through formal instruction in a lecture hall or classroom, or online. Others will be propagated to you in informal, casual conversations. It is at this particular intersection that some have lost their way, with a few even turning away from faith in Jesus, indicating that though they may have “grown up in the church” they never really had a relationship with him at all. They knew about Jesus but didn’t know him personally.

And so my hope for this post is the same as what Paul desired of the Christians in Colossae. He writes, “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:1-7; emphasis mine; English Standard Version)

THE FRONTLINE

Whether you realize it or not, there is a spiritual war going on. Satan and his demonic forces are at work seeking to divert us as Christians from obeying Jesus, distract us from being on mission for Jesus, and destroy our witness to the world about Jesus (Ephesians 6:12; 1 Peter 5:8). Simply put, he is always seeking opportunities to tempt us to desert Jesus. He is also seeking to keep the minds of non-Christians blind “from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (Colossians 4:4). And that’s just part of the battle. The other deals with the war that is waged against us by our own sinful flesh or desires (1 Peter 2:11).

But how does he, Satan, do all of this? He employs various tactics that work-in-hand with our sinful desires to achieve his ultimate goal: our rebellion against God. What does he concentrate his efforts on and direct his evil forces against? God’s word. The Scriptures. The Bible. This is the frontline of the battle. And, as we will see, it has been so since the beginning. So, in the following paragraphs, I want to take you, student (particularly incoming college freshmen), through an abbreviated 3-stage boot camp to prepare you for the battle that is ahead.

Stage 1: The Authenticity of the Bible

As Christians, we believe that the Bible (all 66 books; no more, no less) is the only genuinely inspired word of God. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” God is the author of the Bible, written by the hands of men. Dr. William Bell, one of my former professors at Dallas Baptist University, defined the inspiration of the Bible this way, “God so supernaturally directed the writers of scripture that without wavering their human intelligence, literary style or personal feeling, His complete and coherent message to man was recorded with perfect accuracy, the very words of the original scripture bearing the authority of divine authorship.”

What proof do we have of the Bible’s divine authorship? Here are four common pieces of evidence:

Continuity: The Bible is comprised of 66 books written over a period of about 1500 years by 40 different people in 3 languages (Hebrew, Greek and some Aramaic). And yet it has one coherent story – a meta-narrative, one big story – God’s plan of salvation of humanity from sin through personal faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Fulfilled Prophecy: If we just look at Jesus, everything that was predicted about him in the Old Testament – hundreds of years prior to his birth – came to pass exactly as it was foretold: from his place of birth, flight into Egypt, ministry in Galilee to the false witnesses, and his redemptive work on the cross.

Archeology: Up until the 1920’s it was believed that Abraham was mythical and Ur was not a real place. In 1922-34 C. Leonard, a British Archeologist, found the land of the Ur of Chaldees. This is just one example of many.

True to life: What the Bible says about us is true. Consider these two realities spoken about in Scripture – 1. Humanity experiences death due to sin (Genesis 3:19; 5:3ff), and 2. Humanity is evil, sinful (Romans 3). And there is much more that the Bible is spot on when it comes to life and how we are as humans.

So if the Bible is inspired by God (and it is), then this means that it is also inerrant, containing no errors (2 Timothy 2:15 calls the Bible “the word of truth.”). The Bible is true because God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18 says, “it is impossible for God to lie”). The Scripture is fully true in all that it reports, teaches and declares, and affirms; and is, therefore, binding on us as Christians – the final authority under which we submit our faith and lives.

As seen in Genesis 3 with our first parents, Adam and Eve, Satan’s main goal related to this stage is to discredit the Bible in the minds of people. If people don’t believe the Bible to be God’s word, they will not recognize its authority and will disregard its proclamations, warnings, wisdom, commands, and prohibitions.

Stage 2: The Interpretation of the Bible

Without any doubt, the Scripture is God’s word. And his eternal word comes to us through human language and couched in the historical settings of the times in which it was written. The Bible is not monolithic. In terms of language, God employed various literary forms or genres, like historical narrative, proverbs, legal speech, poetry, parables, letters, homilies/sermons, figures of speech, etc. And then there are the historical elements of Scripture: geographical setting (the East: Asia, Africa, etc.), cultural background (Jews, Romans, Greeks, etc.) and customary practices (a holy kiss – 1 Thess. 5:16). So if we are to comprehend the Bible, we must do the work of interpretation with prayerful dependence on God the Holy Spirit to guide us into a correct understanding through personal study and research, and consulting trustworthy and faithful biblical scholars and pastors/preachers.

The good news is you do not have to be a deacon, pastor, preacher, or Bible scholar in order to understand Scripture. You can learn how to rightly interpret the Scripture. Here are two fundamental areas of biblical interpretation that you need to give attention to every time you read a passage of Scripture: 1. Context – historical: personal backgrounds of authors, occasion/purpose of the book, and customs; and literary: grammar, syntax, & words in context; and 2. Content – you can’t interpret what you don’t know is there, so learn how to read slowly and carefully. And here is a bonus: Purchase a version of the Bible that is faithful to the original languages but that also uses terminology that is understandable to our modern eyes and ears. I recommend the English Standard Version, New International Version, or New American Standard.

Often through the means of false teachers, Satan’s objective in this stage is to distort the meaning of the Bible (2 Peter 3:14-18). Be careful who you listen to and follow. Check the Bible for yourself. Get yourself into a faithful Bible teaching church.

Stage 3: The Message of the Bible

The central figure of the Bible is Jesus. All of Scripture bears witness and points to him (Luke 24:27; John 5:39). The central message of the Bible is the Gospel or Good News of Jesus. What is the Good News of Jesus? A great summation is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”

Eternal life, the forgiveness of sin, and being made right with and becoming the children of God is only acquired through faith in the person and work of Jesus (John 1:12, 3:16; Romans 3:21-25a; Galatians 2:15-16). Christianity is not principally about do’s and don’ts, but rather what Jesus has DONE on our behalf. God looks favorably upon us because Jesus died sacrificially and rose victoriously for us. Jesus’ redemptive work achieves our righteous standing before God and enables our righteous living for God (according to the Bible and through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives).

Satan’s primary desire in this stage is for people to disbelieve the good news of Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:3-4) and to decrease our devotion as Christians to Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:3-4).

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The battle is on. And it will only intensify as you continue to grow in maturity and obedience to Jesus. Satan, our spiritual enemy, has deployed his agents to meet you and others on that college campus. Do not be fooled by his deceitful tactics and fall into his demented traps. There is no need to fear him because according to Colossians 2:15, “He [Jesus] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”

I pray, as you begin your college journey, that you take to heart this charge that the apostle Paul gave to his young protégé Timothy:

“Timothy, guard [or keep] what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith. Grace be with you all.” (1 Timothy 6:20-21; New International Version)

“The Bible Says…” Are You Sure? (part 5)

In this final post of my 5-part series on “The Bible Says…” Are You Sure? we will survey one of the top aphorisms mistakenly attributed to the Scriptures.

This proverbial saying is said to have been quoted by Benjamin Franklin in the Poor Richard’s Almanac of 1757, who adapted it from Aesop’s “Hercules and the Waggoner” fable. The Townsend version of the fable is as follows:

A carter was driving a wagon along a country lane, when the wheels sank down deep into a rut. The rustic driver, stupefied and aghast, stood looking at the wagon, and did nothing but utter loud cries to Hercules to come and help him. Hercules, it is said, appeared and thus addressed him: “Put your shoulders to the wheels, my man. Goad on your bullocks, and never more pray to me for help, until you have done your best to help yourself, or depend upon it you will henceforth pray in vain.”

Someone summarized the moral of this mythological story with this pithy saying: “God helps those who help themselves.” And over time it stuck and people began to assume that its origin was the Bible. But this phrase, even just the concept itself, is not found in the Scripture. As a matter of fact, the opposite is true: God helps those who can’t help themselves. To say it another way, God doesn’t expect us to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, or promises only to step in to help us after we have done our part. On the contrary, the Bible declares and shows God to be the one who steps out first to help us. He initiates. According to Scripture, we can clearly see this truth displayed in at least three major areas of our lives.

1. Our Salvation

Whether we are talking about the objective or subjective (i.e., our turning from sin and placing our trust in Jesus to be saved from sin and God’s wrath – Romans 3:21-25a; Ephesians 2:8-9) aspects of salvation, God is the one who accomplished it. God the Father planned or purposed it (Ephesians 1:3-5), God the Son [Jesus] achieved it (Romans 5:6-21), and God the Holy Spirit appropriated it in our lives through our faith in the redemptive work of Jesus (John 3:5; 16:8-11; Titus 3:4-7).

“For while we were still weak [without strength or helpless],” Paul says, “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6)

2. Our [Progressive] Sanctification

Even our desire and efforts to live Christ-like lives moment-by-moment and day-by-day is caused by God. As Paul writes, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13) We can work out our salvation (notice he didn’t say work for our salvation) precisely because God works in us, enabling us to do so.

3. Our Service

Our acts of service to the church through our spiritual gifts and to the greater community of humanity through gospel-proclamation and good deeds are empowered and executed by God as well (Romans 12:6; 1 Peter 4:10-11; Acts 1:8). This does not absolve us Christians of responsibility before and cooperation with God in serving others (or even in our sanctification) because, often times, he requires that we work in tandem with him, that we obey him. But it is to recognize that in Christianity God is the initiator of all things and we are first and foremost recipients who then become contributors, all by the grace of God.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14)

“The Bible Says…” Are You Sure? (part 4)

In part 3 of this 5-part series, we succinctly tackled a common misquotation of Scripture.  Today, we will examine another saying that is fairly popular in preludes, interludes, and songs on contemporary Christian albums, with choirs and praise & worship leaders and teams, and has even made its way into some sermons.

It is often said,

“If you want to see God give you victory in your [fill in the blank],”

“If you want to put Satan and demons to flight,”

“If you want to see your enemies stumble and fall,”

“If you want God to deliver you from XYZ,”

then you need to understand that:

“Praise is Your Weapon”

I am sure many of you have heard this statement used in connection with any or all of the above mentioned exhortations. But – by now, if you have been keeping up with this blog series, you know the question that follows – does the Bible say or teach that praise is our weapon? Obviously, some would say yes. Those who answer in the affirmative normally land on one or more of the following passages of Scripture to make their case: Joshua 6:1-20; 2 Chronicles 20:1-23; and Acts 16:25-26. Let’s briefly examine each text and see if indeed these passages substantiate this view.

 1. Jericho’s Wall (Joshua 6:1-20)

Moses is dead. Joshua has been commissioned by God to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land. The Jordan has been crossed, those born during the wilderness wandering were circumcised, and the Passover has been observed for the first time in the land of Canaan. The people of Israel are now encamped at Gilgal. And the city of Jericho stands before them.

The Lord speaks to Joshua, ensuring him of their victory against the king and mighty men of valor of Jericho. He then instructs him, the men of war, and priests bearing (and blowing) trumpets and the ark to march around the city once for six days with the silenced people of Israel in tow. Then on the seventh day, “you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat…” (Joshua 6:4-5). The biblical record reveals that on the seventh day at the seventh time around the city when the trumpets were blown, “as soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city.” (Joshua 6:20)

In an effort to apply this verse to contemporary times, some would say, “Just like the people of Israel experienced victory over Jericho through a shout, you and I can experience victory in our lives today by praising God as well.” They continue, “So if you want to see the wall of debt, disease, and destitution fall in your life, all you’ve got to do is shout and give God some praise.”

The problem with this type of understanding and application of the passage is simple and obvious: the “shout’ in Joshua 6 had nothing to do with praise, worship, or verbal acclamation of God; it was simply an unintelligible yell or scream – something like a war cry.

2. Jehoshaphat’s Victory (2 Chronicles 20:1-23)

With the ominous threat of invasion by a coalition of enemy forces, King Jehoshaphat proclaimed a nationwide fast and called upon the people of Judah to join him in prayerfully seeking God for help. God answered by speaking through a Levite of the sons of Asaph named, Jahaziel, saying, “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s…You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.” (vs. 15b, 17)

In light of this prophesy, the Bible reports that Jehoshaphat “appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.’ And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed.” (vs. 21-22)

So then, preachers – many with sincere intentions – seek to deduce from this a point of application for their audiences and say things like, “The key to victory over your haters, the key to acquiring the wealth of the wicked is your praise! Your prosperity is in your praise. Your breakthrough is in your praise. Your healing, deliverance, etc. is in your praise.”

There is only one problem: God never commanded the people to praise him in order for their victory to be realized. King Jehoshaphat placing the singers in front of the army and the appointed singers praising God was a demonstration of their trust in God to fulfill his promise to them. Their praise was not the reason for their triumph over the enemy, but rather a response to the Lord God who guaranteed and achieved victory on their behalf.

3. Paul and Silas’ Imprisonment (Acts 16:25-26)

After receiving a vision of a man beckoning him to come to Macedonia to help them, Paul, along with Silas, step foot into Philippi, a Roman colony and leading city of Macedonia. During their time there, Paul and Silas encountered a slave girl “who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling.” (Acts 16:16) After some days of her being a nuisance, following Paul and Silas and crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation” (vs. 17), Paul finally gets fed up and commands the demonic spirit to come out of her. Her owners were not too pleased with this because Paul, in essence, just put them out of business (you know how we as humans can get when you start messing with our cash flow). So to make a long story short, they convinced the magistrates that Paul and Silas were rabble-rousers and consequently ordered them to be beaten and placed in prison. Let’s pick up the story from here, shall we?

“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.” (vs. 25-26)

I don’t really have to tell you where we go with this as preachers, do I? Well, let’s indulge each other.

“Your earthquake [of deliverance] is awaiting your exultation.”

“Your breakout of prison is contingent upon you breaking forth in praise.”

And on and on it goes; and in some cases, ad nauseam.

Will you notice that Paul and Silas were not just singing, they were also praying. But more importantly and clearly more plausible is the fact that the cause and reasons for the earthquake was due solely to the sovereign grace and plan of God to free Paul and Silas so that they could continue on their missionary journey throughout the region, and also to create an opportunity and provide a hearing for the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus among the prisoners and the jailer and his entire household.

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My intent in this post was not to be nitpicky or contentious. I have a deep concern for the spiritual health of those who have been taught this supposedly biblical aphorism. Many people have been praising God for years related to problems they are experiencing in their lives, all with the hope that their praise is the key to unlock the door of their long-awaited deliverance. And for some it hasn’t happened yet and they have consequently and unfortunately become disillusioned with God, even to the point where their devotion and obedience to him has waned. On the other hand, you have those who have experienced victory, healing, deliverance, etc., but have and continue to erroneously attribute it to their praise of God rather than to God alone. This tends to turn Christianity into an impersonal religion of formulaic, fail-proof rituals and routines (to get the life you want), rather than being that which the Bible describes, namely, that Christianity is a religion based on a relationship with God in Christ Jesus.

So, in conclusion, when it comes to our enemies, how about we aspire to do what the Bible teaches and that is to pray for and love them (Matthew 5:43-48). And as far as Satan and his demonic forces are concerned, our weaponry to fight against them is not praise, but “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). So be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might, and wield the truth and promises of his gospel/word.

And let’s leave praise for what it is: a thankful and grateful response to our God for who he is and what he has done, is doing, and will do for us in Christ Jesus and according to his good and wise plans and purposes for our lives.

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