How to spark a mission revival (without nickel-and-diming your people to death)

Five years ago, our church hosted its first Global Impact Celebration. That weekend “missionWorld logo large revival” event was the culmination of about a year’s worth of work to get our mission house in order. With coaching and materials provided by The Mission Society, we developed a mission policy, identified significant partnerships and formed a plan for cultivating the resources to support those partnerships.

All great stuff because the fact was, we needed to clean up our mission house. Until then, I’d been what they call a “permission-giving pastor.” When someone came to me with a great idea, my response was usually, “If you can make it happen, help yourself!” Because of that, our outreach and mission efforts were a mile wide and an inch deep. Everyone’s special interest was being promoted; the fundraisers were beginning to nickel-and-dime us to death.

Even so, in the year before our first Global Impact Celebration our mission giving was about $5,700. Not a lot to show for all those yard and donut sales. And not a lot to show otherwise, either, except for some very tired volunteers.

Then we got connected with The Mission Society. They coached us toward a more focused approach. We developed a mission policy that helped us wade through all the great things out there and choose the ones that fit our vision and personality. The core litmus test for us became one line: Jesus at the center of everything we do. That one line has helped us say “no” to a lot of great ideas that simply aren’t inside our mission of making disciples of Christ. If Jesus isn’t part of it, it probably isn’t the project for us. That, and a few other guidelines, allowed us focus our energies and resources on twelve partnerships — some local, some regional, some global.

Once our policy was in place, we contacted those partners and invited them to a weekend of worship and conversation designed to educate our folks about what they do. We talked together about how best to connect throughout the year. During that weekend, we offered our folks the opportunity to sign up for intentional prayer for our partners that would continue throughout the year. Our people began to connect with the various partners as they aligned their passions and energies with the partner that best suited them. We also extended the invitation to our congregation to give beyond the budget needs directly toward missions.

As I said, the year before our first GIC we gave around $5,700 to mission causes.

The year of our first GIC? $55,370.

Yep … a ten-fold increase in direct giving to mission partners, simply because we got strategic and intentional.

And that level of missional giving was not a blip. It has continued and even grown, as has giving to our regular budget. As I write this, we are more financially healthy than ever.

Four GICs later, we’ve given more than $200,000 to mission causes. That doesn’t include the cash outlay for mission trips or denominational giving; that is strictly checks written toward local, regional and international ministries. Put that together with prayer and hands-on involvement and it begins to feel like maybe we’re actually making a difference in the world. A real difference. What’s more, our people are more passionate, more driven, because they are more Kingdom focused.

We’ve discovered the sheer joy of mission partnership. We love the folks with whom we serve! We love seeing them each year when they visit for our GIC weekend and we love hearing from them throughout the year as we pray for and support them. It feels more and more like a family reunion each time we get together. They are helping us write our family story and as partners we’re writing a chapter in God’s family story.

Why does any of this matter? Because missions is too important to get our leftovers. If we’re honest with ourselves that’s the way it tends to work, even in churches. We pay the bills, pay the staff, pay for programs, build the buildings, then hope for the best where the Great Commission is concerned. Having a strategy ensures that missions gets the best of our prayers, the best of our volunteer efforts and the best of our offerings … not just our leftovers.

We may not have the best church building in town (or even the best warehouse, for that matter) but I am absolutely convinced we are building the Kingdom as we live strategically into God’s plan for making disciples around the world.

The Global Outreach training offered by The Mission Society has changed the shape of our missions house. Every year it is like a little revival and this weekend we’ll be doing it again. From advance registrations it looks like this will be our best attended GIC yet. If you’re in town, come by and warm yourself in Mosaic’s mission fires.

Come, Lord Jesus, and give us your heart for the whole world.

To learn more about how The Mission Society helps local churches think strategically,  contact Duane Brown (debrown@themissionsociety.org) or visit their website (The Mission Society)

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Finish what you started (or, the most powerful three-letter word in the Bible)

But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. – 2 Timothy 4:5

This is quite a charge. Paul challenges Timothy to stay sober-minded, live with the challenges, keep those who don’t yet know as the priority, and not neglect the parts of ministry he doesn’t like.

Like I said … quite a charge.

Discharge ALL the duties of ministry, Paul says. All.

What a loaded three-letter word! It feels like that line at the end of a job description — the one that says, “other duties as assigned.” You don’t find out until you take the job that the “other duties as assigned” take about forty hours of your already 40-hour work week.
What Paul is trying to tell his first-century audience and also me is that evangelism is a package deal. It is preaching and acts of mercy. Word and works. To do the work of an evangelist, we have to discharge all the duties of ministry.

My experience after seventeen years of ministry and the start of two congregations is that the only thing standing between me and complete burn-out is not success, but the power of God.

It is the power of God that saves me from myself. And make no mistake about it: until we get the bigness of God, we won’t be qualified to discharge the “other duties as assigned.” All the duties of ministry. To cast out demons, cure diseases, proclaim the Kingdom, heal the sick … because that’s what they are hungry for, these people who come limping into our faith communities.

Clearly, this is the work of ministry Jesus expected of his followers. The whole package, not just the parts we like.

So what is the secret to courageous ministry that doesn’t wear a person completely out?

Jesus tells us in the last chapter of Luke and he even uses Paul’s powerful three-letter word. There he is, standing with his friends after the resurrection and he says, (Luke 24:46-49 – NLT), “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ You are witnesses of all these things. And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.”

Here’s the secret, leaders. This is what separates the crazy from the courageous. It is the Holy Spirit. Don’t try to do the work of an evangelist until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from Heaven.

The Kingdom Church is starving — and the fields are white — for Spirit-filled followers who are willing to do all the work of an evangelist. That is what we ought to be praying for —  spiritual leaders who are abundantly filled with the Holy Spirit.

Without that, we’re giving them a death sentence. With it, we’re asking them to lead us into the one gospel big enough to hold us in life or in death.

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What grace feels like (or, what I learned from a roomful of missionaries)

I spent seven days in Costa Rica with about 95 missionaries and assorted others who support them through The Mission Society. I had the great pleasure of teaching daily on themes from the book of Ephesians. Anyone could have done what I did so I recognize and deeply appreciate the grace that placed me in that room with such a Spirit-filled community. I’ve rarely felt so undeservedly blessed.

The missionaries came mostly from countries in the southern hemisphere but there were also missionaries from Tanzania, Kenya, China, India, the Philippines and a few other places. This was a global snapshot of God’s work in the world.

Here are a few things I learned from my time with these folks:

costa-rica-4The Kingdom of God comes through obedience. What I found most refreshing about this group was their quiet yet firm obedience to God’s call on their lives. These aren’t rock stars; they are ordinary men and women with a rare sense of what it means to obey God. Some of the folks I met have moved thousands of miles away from children and grandchildren, sometimes over their families’ strenuous objections. Others have taken small children into dangerous areas to live and serve. They do so not because they are naive or foolish but because they have sensed the strong call of God into this work. Their children, I might add, are some of the most remarkably flexible, faithful and fun of any kids I’ve been around.

Humility is cultivated through challenge. The most striking difference in my opinion between acosta-rica-3 roomful of missionaries and a roomful of preachers is ego. I don’t want to throw my own tribe under the bus, but the fact is that a roomful of American preachers will spend a lot of time measuring and posturing. A roomful of missionaries — that roomful, anyway — will spend time in more transparent conversation. My sense is that there is something uniquely humbling about being in another culture, mostly alone, having to figure out language, strategy and friendships on the fly.

costa-rica-1Missionaries know how to have fun. In the week I was with them, I laughed more than I have in a long time. We played simple games, watched silly skits, danced with silly cartoon figures, and told great stories. We also shared deeply, worshipped richly, and learned attentively. These guys were just plain easy to be with. I appreciated the spirit cultivated by our hosts, the staff team of The Mission Society. It was most definitely a spirit of joy, simplicity and rest.

The body of Christ is a beautiful thing. I loved the structure of this gathering. There were Bible teachers, counselors, strategic thinkers, musicians, creative minds, organizers, story-tellers, culture watchers, innovation managers and prayer warriors all gathered together and all encouraged to share their gifts. Each was able to contribute or receive as they were led. The result was a gloriously restful time of sharing, learning and growing.

I spent the first half of my life exploring different organizations and offering my support where I was able. In this season, I’ve chosen to focus my attention on three: Asbury Theological Seminary (and its publishing house, Seedbed), The Mission Society and Mosaic Church. Seeing the heart and soul of The Mission Society as I met and mingled with its missionaries, I am left with a deeper commitment to this fine organization. Since many of those missionaries spent time at Asbury, I’m all the more impressed with the kind of servant heart incubated at that school. And the trip itself was possible only because the gracious community of Mosaic has so generously embraced my speaking ministry as part of their contribution to the Body of Christ.

I am blessed indeed to be associated with such greatness. This must be what grace feels like.

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Why I stopped doing church (or, how repentance got me off the pew)

This one is about when my family changed churches when I was five years old. We were a family of eight, but my mother and I were the only ones who went to church with any regularity. To be honest, I don’t know what was behind the decision to move. But for whatever reason, we left St. Mark and went to the big church on the hill.

Funny, what memories stick with you. I remember the car ride on that first Sunday we went to the new church. My mother called to me in the back seat and said, “Carolyn, this is a big, fancy church, and we have to be very quiet during the service. You cannot talk during church.” I didn’t remember talking during church before but I can tell you, I was very quiet at the new, fancy church.

We must have liked it there because we stayed but you know, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Just like at the other church, we were still among the last to leave every Sunday because my mother would not go home until she had spoken to everyone.

Maybe that’s why I liked communion Sundays so much. It gave me something to do while I waited for my mom. After church on communion Sundays, while my mother talked, I’d go up to the altar and play with all the little cups that were left there. Now, remember – I was five years old. Five year olds eat dirt at home so church germs were certainly not a threat.

You know how there is always a little bit of grape juice left in the bottom of those little cups? Well, I could take the leavings from two or three little cups and just about fill up another one. And I could usually down three or four shots before my mother caught sight of me. “You can not play with the little cups!” she’d say, as she drug me off by my arm.

Usually when I tell this story, I end by saying that I find it ironic all these years later that I make my living talking during church and playing with those little cups.

But this week, I’m thinking of that story because I’m realizing I’ve never known how to act in church. Since I was five years old, I’ve had a church problem. I’m either talking or playing. I’ve always had a bad habit of saying things you aren’t supposed to say in church. I belong to a denomination that follows the liturgical year but frankly, I am not a fan. I realize some of this is a matter of taste. There are people who like to sit on wooden benches and sing the old songs. It is a comfort to them. It feels like home.

Not me.

Can I be honest and speak from my heart? I can’t believe I ever went to church. I don’t think I could ever go back. My experience at Mosaic has ruined me. The transparency, the concern for the one who doesn’t quite fit, the willingness to move with the Spirit, the desire for real community … that speaks to something deep inside of me. It feels like “home.”

And it has ruined me for anything else.

I don’t claim to know God’s whole vision for the church but I do believe he is looking for more than just somebody to talk on Sundays who occasionally plays with those little cups.

But that’s what I knew when I started all this and I’m beginning to realize something sort of profound. I have what is in my heart and then I have what I grew up with. And even all these years later, those two things can still be in conflict. There are bizarre times I find myself irrationally choosing the old in favor of the new; it creates an inner conflict. A traditional heart covered in bluejeans can be a very uncomfortable thing.

Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. Traditional forms of church are not the point of this blog. The point is the state of my heart. Am I willing to change, to go with God, in whatever direction he calls?

I’m telling you all this because sometimes I find myself dealing with God’s call to do a new thing. Am I really willing to go when God says go? Am I really okay with how he makes all things new? Am I truly open to new moves of the Spirit? Am I willing to try new things, or is that only for when I’m miserable enough to change?

Repentance is a willingness and intention to change in the direction of the Kingdom of God. But I’m not always ready to repent, even when I see my fault. Sometimes I have to ask God to “repent me” because I can’t honestly repent myself. I want to want to change, but I’m not always fully there when I recognize the need for it.

But this morning, I see both my need for change and that change in a Kingdom direction is good for me. So repent me, Father, for all the little ways I rebel against your creative call forward. Repent me for the habits I consciously hang onto, hoping you won’t notice. Repent me for the things I stuff and deny and ignore when change and growth are the better alternative.

Repent me for my religious spirit, for my anxious spirit, for my fears. Repent me for every moment I’ve done “church” in the comfortable ways rather than pressing in and forward toward the Kingdom.

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What a woman wants in a man

What a cheeky title for a blog post … like I know or have authority to speak for all women everywhere. In fact, I don’t. But I shared a few thoughts recently with my Facebook community about what I believe makes a good man and husband* and invited others to chime in. The women in my circles, as it turns out, have very strong opinions about men. They don’t speak from a place of desperation; to the contrary, their comments reveal a hunger for men with strong character, faith and commitment to family.

So, at least according to my limited circle of friends, what makes a good man?

1. A good sense of humor
The ability to laugh is so important to building health and trust into a relationship. To laugh at oneself and in loving ways with one another (not making fun, but sharing joy) is a mark of emotional maturity. Be clear on this: a good sense of humor is not limited by an ability to tell a good joke. It reflects a creative mind, a spirit of adventure, a willingness to play.

2. A mature spirit
Don’t mistake playfulness for immaturity; it is actually a mark of spiritual freedom. The real “playas” in this world are emotionally responsive — unbound by shame, fear or defensiveness. Mature men are compassionate, good listeners, gentle yet strong. Honorable and transparent. In biblical times, the mark of a good man was one who was respected in the marketplace. That hasn’t changed.

3. A man who knows who he is
Several women who responded to my Facebook post mentioned their desire for a husband who is confident without being arrogant. Godly women appreciate men with courage enough offer an opinion without anger, who lead when leadership matters, who listen without caving, who protect without controlling.

4. A biblical worldview
Over and over, the women in my circles mentioned the ability to prioritize as a key to strong character. “God first, family second, all else comes next.” In other words, women like men who think and live biblically. We like givers — men with a missional heart, who are concerned for the needs of others. Men like that tend to inspire the people around them. And connected to that spirit of generosity is an ability to say “thank you.” Often.


5. Unafraid to pray (and worship) in public or private
Women like a man who can stop, drop and pray. Hold her hand while you’re praying or better yet, let her find you praying on your knees. Why does praying matter? It reveals what’s really inside. Women in my circles love a man who loves the Lord.

6. Disciplined
As one woman put it, “laziness is not sexy.” Women like men who work hard, who know their responsibilities and fulfill them, who understand their role as providers. Discipline breeds integrity. Disciplined men know how to stand by their word. Their yes is yes and their no is no. You can trust their follow-through, and that breeds trust. Without trust, you’ve got nothing.

7. Able to see a big picture
A man with his priorities in order is free to dream. He isn’t so focused on immediate concerns that he can’t pitch a big vision for his life and family. He is ready and willing to make a difference in the world; he isn’t stymied by fear.

8. Wants more for his life than simply to be a provider
Good family men are so much more than guys who know how to make money and babies. They have a passion for raising up children with strong character, who want to model for their daughters what a good husband can be and for their sons what a good father acts like. And good men take initiative. Women aren’t generally drawn to men who still have to be told to help around the house. Real men change diapers. Real men clean.

9. Has a servant’s heart
To understand true humility we must first understand pride. Pride and self-hatred are related and often manifest as false humility. A person with inadequacy issues or a lack of self-respect will be overly focused on himself. He will be self-conscious and self-defensive. Humility, on the other hand, is related to self-acceptance. One who accepts himself no longer has to focus on himself. He is free to be fully present to others. What a great quality to find in a man! This is someone who listens well, who learns from every conversation, who isn’t waiting for you to finish talking so he can tell you what he knows. He is an encourager who loves mercy and seeks justice. He offers to open the door not because he is a chauvinist but because he prefers to serve others. Humble men are the opposite of weak; they are unafraid to take a stand but do so for all the right reasons.

10. A good lover
I need to note here that in the dozens of comments I received from my Facebook query, not one woman mentioned sex. At least, not directly. Not the way men tend to talk about it. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter to women but that it is packaged differently. Women are intrigued by kindness and vulnerability and most notably, women want to be pursued. One of our core needs is to be treasured. This is reflected in the biblical narrative. Read Song of Solomon and watch the joy generated in that pursuit. Women who feel wanted — not needed, but wanted — are inspired toward passion.

Paul encouraged the Ephesian men to aspire to mature manhood (4:13). Of course, no human being can hit on all cylinders all the time, but men who pursue the deep things of God will end up connecting more successfully with the women in their lives.

 

*I am sharing, of course, only out of my own experience, having been joyfully married to a really great man for nearly thirty years.

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Do you have “doing sickness”?

(This post by me was first published at www.seedbed.com.)

She was not a fence-sitter. This was someone who knew how to make things happen. A solid church leader steeped in safe theology and good manners.

And then, the Holy Spirit got hold of her.

It happened when leaders of our church began to wrestle with how their own spiritual health might be affecting the community.* We were learning new things about the connection between emotional and spiritual health and this one leader was particularly impacted. Seeing how her emotional maturity could impact (for better or worse) not just her spiritual life but the progress of others sent her on a journey that both awakened and unnerved her.

Because she was the kind of leader who didn’t back down from a challenge, she got honest with God and herself. She diagnosed herself with “doing sickness.” She could make things happen, but was all that activity Spirit-led? The cure meant submitting to the Holy Spirit’s work in her life but that was scary. What if this change disappointed those who had come to depend on her ability to “do”?

One day she marched into my office and with both frustration and surrender in her expression, asked, “Will you be okay with me if I come to the end of this and am a different person?” I thought it was a profound question. After all, she’d been central to some progress we were making as a church. She was doing big things with small groups, developing teams and shaking up our approach to newcomers. I loved her ability to “do.”

But now that the Holy Spirit had gotten hold of her, well … what if she changed? And what if those changes led her out of the work she was doing and into places we couldn’t predict? What if the Holy Spirit convinced her to be still? Would she still be needed? Would we still like her?

It was as if she were standing by a pool holding a rock, her hand hovering over the water. The rock was a crisis of belief that moved her to the threshold of transformation. At this stage, she found herself asking, “What has to change in my life if I am going to go with God?” Because here’s the thing. Once that rock hits the water, ripples happen and we don’t get to control the ripples. This decision to be led by the Spirit is a choice to release control.

This is what it means to be sanctified. Sanctification is about allowing the Holy Spirit to lead as He flows through us, energizing our journey with Jesus. When we submit to being filled, we become part of a movement that cannot be contained and it begins with the question, “What has to change if I am going to go with God?” Am I even willing to let change happen? And if I change, will I be okay with that? Will the people around me be okay with it? Will I be okay with it even if they aren’t?

Sanctification is messy! In our community of faith, we are discovering that we get to control almost nothing in this process. We are being led places we didn’t think we wanted to go. We find ourselves building arks under sunny skies, trusting in what we don’t yet see.

But sanctification is also joyful. As it turns out, I not only like that leader who has allowed the Holy Spirit more access to her life, I like her more. She is still doing great things among our people, but I’m noticing that now her activity comes from a different motivation, a more peaceful and impassioned place. She is slowly but surely being released from the tyranny of “shoulds” and “oughts” and there is a great joy in that release.

Sanctification brings freedom. Freedom from “doing sickness.” Freedom from “pleasing others sickness.” Freedom from the need to air-brush our lives into some socially-accepted image. The Spirit-led life offers such freedom to live headlong into the values of God, to create ripples and flow in His river.

I am convinced this “flow” into the Spirit-led life is the difference between going to church and going with God. After all, it is one thing to believe. That we can control and even choose to keep to ourselves. But it is only as our rocks hit the water, as we choose transformation and let the ripples happen, that our stories begin to flow into God’s story.

What needs to change in your life if you are going to go with God? May you be filled with a holy discontent and a desire to flow in the river of God.

 

*For more on the connection between emotional and spiritual health, visit www.emotionallyhealthy.org, a ministry created by Peter Scazzero, the pastor of New Life Church in Queens, NY.

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What a farm fence taught me about life and resolutions

I am remembering a walk one day along the fence line of a family farm. The farm has since passed to other hands, but the lessons of that fence have stayed with me. I offer these principles here for those looking for direction for a new year and a fresh start:

First, walk your fence line and look for gaps. Fences are important to the work of a farm. A weak fence is an open invitation to a predator. It’s also an invitation for a horse or cow to go where they shouldn’t. Checking the fence line for gaps is an important part of farming. Likewise, checking spiritual fence lines is an important part of personal growth. Checking the fence line is about getting our motives right. When our motives are prideful (we want to win) or selfish (we want what we want), then God will step back and let us do our own thing. But when our motives are right (we’re after things God values) then we can be confident He’s in there with us.

This is straight out of the Bible. We are encouraged to test ourselves — to be fearless in looking for spiritual gaps and places where the enemy can get to us. Psalm 139:23-24 says, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

If you’re hoping to be more effective, more productive, more in tune with God’s will in 2016, then start with David’s prayer. “Search me, O God, and know my heart.” Walk the fence lines; look for gaps. Be ruthless in shaking the posts to ensure the weak places get reinforced. We don’t have anything to fear when we walk the fence lines. We may have have gaps, but gaps we know about can be fixed. We can begin again.

Some gaps have a purpose (but even planned gaps need tending). At my father-in-law’s farm, there was one place in the fence where the gap was wide and obviously there on purpose. Joe had an agreement with the guy who owned the pasture next to his, so the neighbor’s cows were able to come and go freely between the two pastures. But even planned gaps have limits. Joe pointed out a couple of issues with the gap we were looking at and said he was going to have to tell the guy that if he didn’t take care of those issues, he would have to close the gap and the cows wouldn’t have access to his pasture any more. Weakened gaps in your fence — even planned gaps — and the whole point of the fence is lost.

Where have you allowed unhealthy gaps — too many commitments, too much on your plate for you to do any of it well?

Firebreaks serve not just us but those around us. A firebreak is a shallow trench dug into the ground about five feet inside the fence line. When a property owner has a planned burn to clear out the underbrush in an area, they build a firebreak to keep the fire from jumping over onto the neighbor’s property. Don’t dig a firebreak on the property line; dig inside the property line.farm-fence2

What a great word for those of us who tend to live at our limits. If we’re going to be respectful of the people around us, we’ve got know our limits and live not at them but inside them. Build a fire break not just for your own sanity but for everyone else’s, too. Maybe James had this at least partly in mind when he said, “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark” (James 3:5). When we get past our limits emotionally, we too easily end up blowing sparks in the direction of people who don’t deserve to be burned.

Practice controlled burns. After digging a firebreak a few feet in from the fence line, a property owner will set their own woods on fire. On purpose. The point is to clear out the underbrush, get rid of dead trees and limbs and stimulate seed germination. As a metaphor, this is such a rich idea. This is about getting rid of the stuff that seems harmless but is actually sapping the life out of us. It’s also about getting rid of the stuff we know is hurting us. Jesus said (Matthew 5:29-30), “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” Jesus is talking here about a controlled burn — about getting rid of anything that might start a fire in your life or sap nutrients from the more important stuff. What needs to go (even good stuff), so more productive things can flourish?

I want to challenge you early in this new year to take some time apart to walk your fence line and look for the gaps that need repair. Dig a firebreak well inside your property line not just for yourself, but for the people around you. Do a controlled burn; get rid of the underbrush and the dead wood. Prime your soil for new growth.

A new year is a great time for a new start. Are you with me?

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