Category Archives: Life

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.

Before You Date

My wife and I started dating in High School. Having been married for 13 years now, I sometimes look back on that time and think, God, how in the world did I end up with such a saved, solid, smart, and supportive woman?! The answer to that question is: God and God alone! It most definitely was him because I was young and dumb.

I had an example of a good woman at home in the person of my mother. And, yes, my father shared some wisdom with me (a bit at the beginning of our dating relationship and some more as we became more serious). But in all honesty, at that point in my life and in my relationship with Jesus, I really didn’t see (or care to see) the importance of what she modeled before me nor what he taught me. I was, in many respects, simply thinking and operating from a sense of infatuation. That doesn’t mean I didn’t give any thought to who we were as two individuals before we began dating; but it wasn’t nearly as spiritual, serious, and substantive as it should have been (and, yes, I believe that Christian teenagers – with guidance from his or her Christian parent(s) and/or other maturing believers – need to pray and think soberly about this aspect of life before they engage in it). Because of that, thinking retrospectively, we could have easily found ourselves caught in a toxic relationship or gingerly, with regret, attempting to pick up the fragments of our shattered hearts from a failed one…but God! Though our dating relationship began on somewhat shaky ground (and was far from perfect), God intervened.

Thank God for his grace towards the naive.

But we ought not to arrogantly presume upon it, as if God is obligated to keep us from the consequences of our sinful or foolish dating decisions, especially when we know better. For God to give us his wisdom concerning relationships (which is found in Jesus, recorded in Scripture, and often communicated through godly counsel) should be viewed by us as an act of his grace, and should not be ignored. So in that vein, I want to offer five characteristics single Christians should desire to see in the life of those whom they are interested in before they make a decision to enter into a serious dating relationship with the end goal being marriage (which is another post for another day).

Note: The Scriptures referenced in this article obviously do not, in their respective contexts, have anything to do with dating. What I have sought to do is take the selected verses and see how they might apply to this particular topic.

1. Healed

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)

Has he or she turned from sin and trusted in the person and work of Jesus for salvation, for the forgiveness of sin? Do they believe in the perfect life of Jesus, his substitutionary death on the cross for our sin, and his bodily resurrection from the dead? This, by far, is the most important characteristic that should be evident in the life of someone whom you are interested in dating. How does one go about finding out this information? Here is a suggestion: Ask if he or she is a Christian. If the answer is yes, then ask – How did you become one? His or her response to this follow-up question will be telling, so listen carefully. If you hear anything other than the good news of Jesus, don’t go any further with that person. It is best that you both stay casual acquaintances or friends.

“Well, maybe God wants me to be with him to help win him to Jesus.”

“I think God is leading me to date her so that I can influence her to Jesus.”

Missionary dating is not only dangerous; it is, I would contend, also disobedient (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Don’t do it!

To date someone who is not a Christian, who has not been spiritually healed by Jesus, is to constantly be in close proximity to someone whose highly contagious sin-sickness has not been cured and is not in remission, but is actively coursing through his or her spiritual veins, which will eventually infect and affect you as well.

2. Hungry

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation (1 Peter 2:2)

Well, let’s just say she’s got the first characteristic. Great! But there’s more. When we are born again by grace through faith in Jesus, we become children of God. With this new birth comes a desire, a hunger for God’s word. God’s word, as Peter describes it, is pure spiritual milk, which provides the nourishment for our souls. It is the means by which we grow up into salvation. It is how we mature in Jesus.

This is why it is important to not only know if that person of interest is healed from sin in Jesus but also if he or she is hungry for God’s word. Here are some diagnostic questions to think about:

  • Does he have a growing desire to learn the Bible?
  • Does she read and study the Scripture more than just on Sunday?
  • Does he have a regular diet of the word of God?
  • Where is she getting her spiritual milk from? And is it pure or spoiled?
  • Who is he sitting under for spiritual nourishment?

It’s awesome that he or she is saved. But how is his or her appetite for God’s truth?

3. Holy

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

“So, I’ve checked, and, yes, he is healed and hungry.”

Good deal. Let’s continue then.

A mark of a maturing Christian is what is often called, total life worship. It is presenting our whole selves (actions, thoughts, desires, and speech) as living sacrifices to God – to live and do as he pleases. In short, as growing believers we will progressively live holy lives; lives that both revere and reflect Jesus. As you can see, this goes deeper than simply whether or not a person goes to church. Regularly attending corporate worship is good and is part of what God has commanded us to do, but it is definitely not all that he has required of us. Jesus rightly deserves and demands our total allegiance and the full abandonment of our lives to his will and purposes. Does your dating prospect show evidence of a life lived in continual submission to King Jesus?

4. Honest

And he told her all his heart… (Judges 16:17a)

Granted, the historical account of Samson and Delilah is nowhere near the paragon of healthy relationships. Plus, the intent of that biblical story is not to give dating tips. One thing, however, that does surface clearly in the text is that Samson eventually gives in to Delilah’s nagging, deceitful, and malicious persistence to tell her the truth about where his strength lied. I think we can at least say this: whereas Samson’s honesty got him in trouble, your honesty and that of your prospective boyfriend or girlfriend could possibly keep you out of a whole lot of trouble…with God and with each other.

Truth-telling should be non-negotiable, especially when you are on the front porch, seriously thinking about entering through the dating door. You absolutely need to know what you are about to walk into before you cross that relational threshold! Obviously, if this is your first time meeting him or her, or you have only known him or her on a casual basis, then you shouldn’t expect or require to know everything about him or her at the outset, nor should you divulge too much information about yourself out the gate. But shortly after the initial meet-up or first couple of dates, you need to start digging, especially if you are seriously and exclusively looking to date this person. He or she needs to be honest with himself or herself and honest with you, and vice-versa. “Honest about what?” you ask. Consider at least these four categories and some questions to think about and maybe even pose to him or her:

a. Family Upbringing: What was her (or his) home life like growing up, and how has that impacted who she is today?

b. Past Relationships (if applicable): How many persons has he dated before and how did the relationship(s) end?

c. Personal Habits: What does she routinely engage in? Is that activity life-giving or life-draining; fun or foolish; wise or wasteful; positive, negative, or neutral; righteous or sinful? And what type of effect might it have on you if the two of you decided to get together?

d. Life Aspirations: What does he want to do at this juncture of his life? What does he hope to achieve? What goals is he shooting for?

5. Humble

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)

I can sum up this final characteristic with one simple question: how does he or she handle personal triumph, trials, temptations, and transgressions?

If she reserves credit for God for her successes, if he runs to God as a refuge in times of suffering, if she relies on God to help her resist satanic and fleshly seduction, and if he repents to God if and when he falls into sin, then you have an individual who is in pursuit of humility.

As it concerns how he or she will relate to you, whether or not he or she is full of pride or humility, one thing you can do is observe (you can also talk to his or her family, friends, and/or co-workers), over time, how he or she generally stacks up against Philippians 2:3-4, which says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” If he (or she) shows a pattern of not figuring you into his thoughts, plans, or actions – and it doesn’t bother him one bit, or he begrudgingly confesses it, or he doesn’t sincerely work to amend his selfish ways – then it might be time to subtract him from the equation. It is better to be whole by yourself, than to be treated like a tenth of a fraction by someone else.

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The point to all of this is: Don’t just blindly jump into a dating relationship with an individual. Be sure and do your homework on him or her. Oh, and please share your findings with other godly family members and friends. And if they express legitimate and serious concerns, don’t blow them off. God just might be using them to save you from a great deal of heartache down the road.

P.S. – These characteristics need to be true of you as well. So, don’t just look out the window at others; be sure you are looking in the mirror at yourself.

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

Dealing with Overly Critical People

Criticism

“Father, help us to apply the message we heard from your word today. In Jesus’ name, we pray, amen.”

Service was now over. I grab my ESV (English Standard Version) Bible and my iPad and step out of the pulpit to meet and greet some people. As I work my way around the room, I run into a particular fellow believer in the Lord. We make eye contact and speak. After exchanging pleasantries, this person immediately proceeds to critique my sermon. And I think to myself, Is this really happening right now? Again?! Every time I see you, you always have some “constructive” criticism you feel you need to share with me. Instead of speaking my mind, by God’s grace, I held my tongue, smiled, listened and nodded my head to let this person know I heard what was said. But when I left that encounter, I was a tad bit perturbed. I knew I had prayerfully done my best to rightly interpret the Scripture passage and worked hard on the sermon structure and presentation. But apparently that wasn’t good enough; at least for this individual.

Although this incident was somewhat unpleasant to me at the time, it got me to thinking about how to deal with such people. Here are seven thoughts on the matter:

1. Pray for them

We are commanded in Scripture to pray for all people (1 Timothy 2:1). This of course includes, by way of application, our critics. And it would be better to offer intercessory rather than imprecatory prayers (You know, those prayers where we, like David, asks God to bring judgment on our enemies).

I have found that in praying for them God has a way of inclining my heart towards them; to see them “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

Through praying for them, I am also reminded that we all as believers stand as sinful yet redeemed saints (because of and) in the presence of our sinless Savior, and are all in need of the Spirit’s help to continue to repent of and fight against sin and to live holy, grace-filled, Christ-like lives.

2. Be genuinely cordial

God, through the Apostle Paul, instructs us to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (2 Corinthians 13:12).  Don’t get tripped up by the holy kiss statement. Paul is essentially saying, welcome and accept one another in whatever way is culturally and personally appropriate and acceptable in your particular context and to the person or people whom you are with.

We have a tendency to pull away from people who are routinely critical of us to the point where we might even try to avoid speaking to them. As hard (or maybe convenient) as it might be at times, when you come in contact with them, pray for God to help you sincerely acknowledge and not dodge them.

3. Accept any kernels of truth

I believe it is Billy Graham who is noted to have said, “There is a kernel of truth in every criticism.” Though not always the case, I would say that is generally true and a good maxim to live by.  To say it another way, when overly critical people come to you, learn to eat the meat (if there is any) and spit out the bones.

I know how difficult it can be at times to hear criticism from that person. But if and when it is true, see it as a precious jewel from God to be received even though it came in an undesirable package.

4. Don’t assume motive

Some people who criticize you don’t always do so out of jealousy or envy. Sometimes people are just passionate and want to see the best for the ministry, church, company, etc. They have a knack for spotting what is wrong, which can be of benefit to your life, work, and leadership. They just don’t know (or care to know) how to be tactful. And, yes, you do have those who have impure, sinful motives or impetuses behind their critique. But my point still remains, when you don’t know why someone is incessantly pointing out things about you to you, be careful about assuming the negative concerning them. You may have good reason to be skeptical of their motives, but try to stay as neutral as possible. Seek to give them the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise.

5. Dismiss their misconceptions

I remember one time after I had preached a person came up to me at the end of service and proceeded to adamantly correct me on a point I made in the message. I am by no means above correction or making mistakes, but I knew in this instance I had done my homework and that my statement was true to the Scripture.  But he/she insisted that I was wrong. There was no convincing this individual that I was indeed correct in what I had said. So, I just nodded and said “That’s interesting. I hear you. I appreciate it.” But in my mind I simply dismissed his/her misconception.

“Why didn’t you correct them on the spot?” you ask. Certainly, there are times when we can and should do so. But, for me, I felt like that was not one of them; plus, I didn’t think it would have been beneficial or received well. That following week the individual came up to me and apologized.

6. Talk with them about their approach

There are those who mean well in their criticism but may be clueless as to how their delivery is negatively affecting it from being readily received. At some point, you probably will have to call them out on their approach. Remember: do it prayerfully, lovingly, sensitively, privately, and directly.

7. Limit your interaction with them

Unfortunately, even after lovingly seeking to address someone’s overly-critical tendency and insensitive approach towards you, he/she might remain obstinate in his/her ways. When all else has failed, one of the best things you can do for that person and for your own sanity and sanctification is to limit your interaction with him/her. You don’t necessarily have to walk in the opposite direction when you see him/her coming your way. Just walk by, speak (if you stop and talk to them, keep it short and sweet), and keep it moving.

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. (Titus 3:1-2)

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.

It’s Business. And, Yes, It’s Personal.

small business

After retiring as a Master Sergeant of the United States Army, my late father went on to start his own one-man appliance repair services company. This was how he earned a living and provided for his wife and kids. It was his sole means of income. To him, his job was both business and personal. But to others, it didn’t seem that they understood that at times.

I know this because he shared with me on a number of occasions how a segment of his clientele would try to negotiate him down from the work order quote he would give them. “With labor and parts,” dad reported, “your total costs will be $_____.” To which they would respond, “Really? I didn’t think it would be that much. Is there any way you can lower that a bit?”

My father was not a hard-nosed guy. He was sensitive to people’s financial plights. And out of compassion he would often make concessions. But some were never satisfied and sought to take advantage of his kindness; regularly expecting a discount on any work that he was to do for them. Although he was gracious, he was not gullible. For those who insisted and persisted, he would either decline to do the work or oblige them but make a mental note to not serve them in the future.

Does that sound harsh? If you think so, consider this. Being the sole proprietor, my father had liberty to set his own fees for work orders. He could charge on the high or low end. It was at his discretion. Generally speaking, he chose to land somewhere in between. Therefore, the cost for his services were already marked down to a reasonable and affordable level.  He adopted this business philosophy partly because he had seen unsuspecting people get swindled out of their money by a few competing companies that charged exorbitant rates. He also had a desire to be a blessing to low-income to middle-class families. And yet my father knew that there were only so many “hook-ups” he could afford before both his business and family would begin to take a hit.

I guess the reason I am speaking on this issue is because too many of us take for granted or selfishly seek to take advantage of the generosity of small business owners (SBOs), especially if they are family members or friends of ours. So, here is some advice for you (and all of us) to consider:

1. If an SBO says to you, “I usually charge [fill in the blank]. But for you, just give me [lesser amount than normal],” don’t be greedy and try to negotiate for an even lower price. Be grateful and take what he or she gives you. Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt to say “Thank you.”

2. Just because an SBO gave you a discount or freebie the last time you went to him for a service doesn’t mean you will automatically receive that all the time. Leave that attitude of entitlement at the door.

3. If an SBO generally tends to give you a break on the costs of her services, it would be nice for you to periodically insist on paying the standard fee.

4. If an SBO gives you a discount, don’t advertise it to others. Don’t tell your people to use you as a reference – an unofficial reference, I might add – so that they can receive the same “hook up” from your SBO buddy, making statements like, “Yeah, he is good. Hey, when you go, make sure to let him know I sent you and he will take care of you.” Making presumptuous promises to others on behalf of your SBO guy or gal is one of the surest ways to ruin a relationship.

5. Do your absolute best to honor the SBO’s business and/or client policies. If you have to give a 24hr notice of cancellation, adhere to that. If it is cash on delivery, don’t bring a check. You get the point.

May we never forget that small business owners have to eat and pay bills just like we do, and possibly have families to take care of.

At the end of the day, for them, business is personal.

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).

__________________________________________________

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)

Men, Where Are You?

AWOL

I don’t think I have to convince you of the fact that many men (not all) here in America are AWOL. We have drawn back from the front line, failing to take up arms to fight -in honor of God, according to his rules of engagement (i.e., the Bible) – for integrity, responsibility, respect, marriage, family, justice, and purity; and have instead decided to entangle ourselves in civilian pursuits (2 Timothy 2:3-4), reveling in selfish and sinful passions.

We are absent. Though a few of us might be so for reasons beyond our control, scores are absent voluntarily and for illegitimate reasons. We have abandoned our families, communities, and churches. Too many of us are nowhere in sight. No wonder why, for example, women and children conduct their lives or treat us as if we are invisible…because we are! Out of sight, out of mind.

Others of us are present, but not fully engaged. We are here, but not here. We are consumed with achievements, accolades, and assets to the neglect of establishing and growing in our relationship with Jesus and others. We are addicted to hobbies to the neglect of home or work. We are fixated on all things flashy to the neglect of the fundamental. We have hidden in plain sight through our obsessions.

But why are we MIA (Missing In Action)? It all stems from the first man, Adam. Our first father (along with his wife), as we discover in Genesis 3:8-11, hid from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Why did he hide from God? In his reply to God’s question – Where are you? – we find the answer, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10; ESV, emphasis mine). He was afraid because he was naked. But to God the answer to his question was more than skin deep. God knew the deeper reason for Adam’s fear and hiding was because he ate of the tree he had commanded him not to eat of (Genesis 3:11).

And it is the same with us men today. Many times we disappear in life because of our disobedience to God. Godward disobedience produces all kinds of human dysfunction and distortion. When we are not right with God, much gets left…people get left behind to go through the painstaking effort to heal and rebuild their lives in the wake of the devastation of our sinful, tornadic behavior; our wives, children, and God’s churches get our leftovers, while other people and businesses are continually allowed to feast on our “prime” time and energy; and God’s agenda for our lives is left incomplete because we are bent on fulfilling our own.

We are all a product of the first Adam. But thank God for the “second Adam” (Romans 5:12-21)!

Gentlemen, if we are going to be the men that God created us to be – men of holiness, honor, and humility – we must stop running from God in sin, hiding behind the trees of fear and pride. May we, by God’s grace and Spirit, run to God, bowing in repentance, trust, and surrender at the feet of the one who bore our sins on the tree (1 Peter 2:24), Jesus the Christ.

Believe in him. Worship him. Trust him. Learn of him. Live for him.

A Mother’s Worth (Tribute to My Wife)

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I’ll never forget the day you informed me that you were pregnant with our second child. Even though that was a few years ago, I remember it as if it was yesterday. What joy filled our hearts!

I stood in awe of God’s grace towards you as I watched you joyfully embrace the vicissitudes of pregnancy with such steady calmness and prayerful trust in our God, especially knowing that just a couple of years ago we had lost our first baby in a miscarriage.

Nine months later, there you were wobbling your way into the hospital to your room with me in tow, carrying your bags. Some hours later, after the epidural from hades (I know you remember that!), Desirae Monique Johnson entered the world. The tears of joy that streamed down your face when you saw our daughter for the first time were priceless…oh, and your drugged up state was too. I wish I would have taken a picture, so that we could later smile and laugh at the same time. Oh well, maybe with the next baby.

And then you came home on maternity leave. I am not sure I have the words to adequately express what it was like to see you transition to motherhood at home. Yes, it was normal and natural, but yet amazing all at the same time. The care and attention you gave (and, of course, still give) to Desi, especially in that first year, was exemplary.

It’s been three years now and I am even more impressed with you. With the demands of a career in accounting, an entrepreneurial itch to start a business on the side, and a commitment to be involved in the life and ministry of the church, you have managed, by God’s grace, to keep your priorities in line with God’s by keeping us first.

As your husband of 11 years, I am thankful to God for you being a wife to me and a mother to our daughter. You are truly worthy of honor, not only on Mother’s Day, but every day of the year.

“Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.'” (Proverbs 31:28-29; ESV)

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