What are We Doing with Our Talents and Gifts?

MaryAnn Ward - Blog Post - Talents and Gifts

One of the most revealing indicators of our vision and self-identity shows through what we do with our God-given talents and gifts. Romans 11:29 tells us that “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” He never voids His gifts. Once given, He allows us to choose what we will do with the talents and gifts He has given to us.

In context, this verse speaks about God’s gift of salvation, but the principle applies to all His gifts.

“For the gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you”
Romans 11:29-31

I’ve highlighted two repetitive words — disobedience and mercy. When it comes to our God-given gifts, most of us can relate to both of these terms.

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Shining Example

Although a recent incident brought this principle to light, I have been pondering this truth for some time. Let’s spotlight one shining example of disobedience and mercy — Moses’ brother Aaron.

God called Moses up Mount Sinai to teach him all the principles of worshipping God and living in healthy community with others. God took all the time He needed to make sure Moses understood each detail, writing them on two tablets of stone as perpetual reminders for everyone.

Aaron, who God had gifted with leadership ability, was left in charge of the people below. Eventually, they all grew tired of waiting for Moses and God. So, Aaron used His God-given talents and gifts to lead the people into idol worship!

“(Aaron) took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.'”
Exodus 32:4

What! How could anyone go so far wrong? But wait! Remember those two words — disobedience and mercy. As great as Aaron’s disobedience, God’s mercy was more.

Later in Leviticus 8, we see the ordination of Aaron and his sons as priests. Now, His God-given leadership brought the people into true worship. Aaron acknowledged his God-given talents and gifts, using them to bring people to God instead of steering them away from Him.

In mercy, God refused to disqualify Aaron for his blatant failure. His gift of spiritual leadership to Aaron was “irrevocable.”

MaryAnn Ward - Gift - Time

God-Gifts

Few of us have failed God as miserably as Aaron did. But we all have experienced our share of failure and God’s mercy. The Bible offers many accounts of people who received second chances to use their talents and gifts for God’s glory and Kingdom purposes. But, more important, we also see many people who walk out their faith with unwavering, wholehearted devotion.

“Every gift God freely gives us is good and perfect, streaming down from the Father of lights, who shines from the heavens with no hidden shadow or darkness and is never subject of change.”
James 1:17 TPT

Many people find it difficult to discern their God-gifts. Others know their talents but live in frustration — unsure of how to use them.

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
1 Peter 4:10

Perhaps, like me, you find the greatest hurdle to overcome is the temptation to use God-gifts for personal pleasure or advantage. We need the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and reveal impure motives. God gives His gifts for one purpose — to serve others.

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Serve Others

We may often overlook the obvious while aiming toward the ambiguous. Let’s consider a few gifts we have all received.

  • The gift of time. This moment is a gift. Will we serve God with wholehearted devotion, consecrating our time as belonging to Him? The stewarding of our time reveals how well we steward other gifts.
  • The gift of relationship. Who are the people God has planted around us? How can we use our gifts to invest in those relationships for their good and God’s glory?
  • What inherent talents do we possess — working with numbers, leadership, servanthood, baking, caring for children, teaching, creativity, …. ? The list is endless! We don’t need to dig deep in our search. What do we enjoy and do well?
  • Ask God! His list may look quite different from ours. Let’s also ask Him how we may better use our talents to serve His purposes.

Though God will never take His gifts from us, we have an opportunity to daily surrender them back to His full control. As we surrender our God-given talents and gifts back to Him, He will do profound things in and through us.

MaryAnn Ward - Gift - Serve Others

Prayer

Father, I thank You for Your gracious and beautiful gifts. Forgive me for, like Aaron, using them in ways that have brought harm instead of good. I confess that I have used them for my own satisfaction and gain. I thank You for your amazing mercy and a new opportunity to use these talents and gifts for Your service. May I steward Your gifts well. Nothing can hinder Your purpose in and through these talents and gifts which You have embedded in me. I surrender them to You to be used when, where, and how You so design. Fill my heart with overflowing gratitude for Your gracious gifts. May I assume responsibility to develop and perfect them. Thank you, Lord, for Your good and perfect gifts.

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Life is Like a Garden — What Fruit Grows There

Life is Like a Garden — What Fruit Grows There

Life is like a garden — planted, tended, and watered. Let’s consider what kind of fruit grows in the garden which God has planted in us.

This morning while driving through snow-slush streets, my random thoughts turned to warmer days and the work it takes to produce garden fruits and vegetables. Many times, I have planted seeds in faith, believing they would grow and bring abundance. I consistently rejuvenated the soil with well-rotted compost and diligently worked to keep the weeds away.

Even though I know that daily efforts produces the best results in the natural realm, I often grow impatient when spiritual fruit doesn’t instantly appear in my life.

I love the way Jesus explained spiritual truths through parables of land and crops. He even repeated a parable that Isaiah had told centuries earlier.

A Vineyard of the Lord

It amazes me who God chooses to invest spiritual seed into. — often the least likely and most unconducive to bear anything of value. He sees fertile ground even amongst the stones!

“…My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest of vines.”
Isaiah 5:1-2

Oh, how much work God pours into our stony lives. hoping for the potential returns. Lovingly, He chooses each one of us. Looking beneath our rough exterior, He sees value and worth.

Like in the parable, He digs out what needs to be exposed. He clears the rocky debris of rebellion and disobedience. Often, the hardened soil of our hearts resists His efforts rather than yielding to the pressure of His process. If life is like a garden, what kind of fruit will be produced in us?

How many rocks of offense must first be removed? How much of His grace will it take to soften hard-hearted attitudes and stoney selfishness? What type of gifts, or the “choicest of vines,” will He plant in us, hoping to see the fruit of His efforts?

Protect Potential

Though we may feel abandoned during the growth process, nothing could be further from the truth.

“…He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well…”
Isaiah 5:2

After planting the vineyard, our Lord takes every precaution to protect the tender vines from harm. He stands in His heavenly watchtower. His eye is upon us, protecting and keeping us from and through enemy attack, while always promising to never abandon us.

As I look back, I remember many times of snaring gophers, chasing rabbits away, and ridding my little garden from pesky bugs? Weeds were quickly dug out by the roots to prevent them from sapping the garden of strength. Do you think for a moment that my garden was more valuable to me than we are to God? Hardly!

He faithfully guards the eternal seed He has invested in us, expecting to see an abundance of fruit flowing from our lives. The seedlings, once frail, lacked any potential for immediate increase, but He “cut out a winepress.” He sees ahead to what we can’t comprehend — the full result of His working in our lives.

Life is Like a Garden

Because life is like a garden, we remember that not every patch of ground produces equally. Some years an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables kept our family fed until the next year’s harvest. Other years, the produce grew sparse.

We find in Isaiah’s parable the saddest response to God’s loving efforts.

“…Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.”
Isaiah 5:2

I openly weep as I read this passage. God did everything God could do for us. He even sent Jesus, His Precious Son, to pay the ultimate price for our sins and to die in our place so that we might have abundant life.

Though we were nothing but specks of dust, He chose us to bear fruit. He lovingly planted the best seeds in our lives, and then nurtured and protected them.

But sadly, when it came time for a harvest, He found “only bad fruit.” Life is like a garden. Any bad fruit in our lives never results from God’s flawed efforts. “Bad fruit” in this passage literally means stinking things or be’ushim — a fungus that stunted growth and caused the fruit to shrivel and die prematurely.

Good or Bad

While God came expecting to find vitality and a bountiful harvest, He found fermented, shriveled fruit. How incredibly sad!

What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?”
Isaiah 5:4

As we read this passage it causes us to solemnly consider the eternal significance of what we allow in our lives. No one desires to hear Jesus speak these words. Yet when we meet Him face-to-face, He alone will assess the outflow of our lives as either good or bad.

Invisible to the natural eye, tiny but deadly spiritual fungus spores float around us. We, too, must carefully keep watch over the garden of our lives so that we may correct anything potentially damaging to God’s good intention for us.

Many invasive things attempt to rob us of fruit. Upon closer look, we may find critical judgments, pride, slothfulness, selfishness, or even a passive acceptance of thoughts and attitudes contrary to God. Whether our spiritual be’ushim is long or short, the implications of such invasion loom large.

For Us All

Jesus repeated Isaiah’s parable in Matthew 21, to remind His listeners, then and now, of potential harm.

Fungus can live in the soil for generations but, praise be to God, so does good seed. Life is like a garden — a garden that will produce eternal benefits as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, tending it with daily consistency.

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Self-Identification — Realigning to our God Identity

Self-Identification — Realigning to our God Identity

Biblically, self-identification comes through realigning to our God identity and coming into agreement with what He says is true about us.

While the western world has perhaps created confusion around self-identification, the concept of recognizing and acknowledging who we are goes beyond the realms of governments and social correctness. How we view ourselves and who we verbally declare ourselves to be forms the grid upon which we make life choices and decisions.

The Bible offers a clear view of who God declares us to be in Christ. Adopting His viewpoint becomes pivotal to our success and reaching our full potential.

I constantly remind myself of these basic principles, introducing them to the people I mentor. I ask them to daily repeat (out loud) God’s identifying truth for several weeks to solidify them in their hearts and minds.

The first step to realigning to our God identity begins as we experience His love for and acceptance of us — welcoming us into a personal and ongoing relationship with Himself. From that beginning, God calls us to steward His truth. This includes His truth about ourselves.

If we don’t allow God to “label” us, the world will.

Set your mind and keep focused habitually on the things above [the heavenly things], not on things that are on the earth [which have only temporal value].”
Colossians 3:2 AMP

Our words repeat heavenly realities, and our lives reflect our beliefs.

Who I Am

Realigning to our God identity falls under three main categories: who God says I am, what God says I can do, and what He says I can have. I don’t believe in a “name-it-and-claim-it” philosophy, but I do believe God’s Word to be infallibly true. As a result, whatever He says I believe.

That faith-hold on His Word comes by hearing it again and again. Just as an abused child believes their worthlessness through repeated actions and verbal declarations, the reverse holds true. The lies and judgments we have heard and come to believe break away as we steward God’s truth over ourselves.

Though this list is far from exhaustive, I include a few main points below.

I am

  • a Son (Daughter), a child of God and not an orphan (John 1:12)
  • God’s adopted child (Ephesians 1:5)
  • in Christ and He is in me (Ephesians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:30)
  • holy and blameless through the finished work of Jesus on the cross (Ephesians 1:4)
  • a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20)
  • secure in my relationship with God (John 10:28-29)
  • fearfully and wonderfully made by God (Psalm 139:14)
  • a friend of Jesus (John 15:15)
  • rooted and grounded in love (Ephesians 3:17)
  • chosen, holy, and dearly loved by God (Colossians 3:12)
  • more than a conqueror through Christ (Romans 8:37)
  • a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17)

What I Can Do

Everyone encounters discouragement and failure. We have given our best and somehow fallen short. However, God’s declaration over us destroys the twisted delusion of previous experience. Here is a snippet of what God says we can do.

I can

  • stand firm because God has anointed and stamped me with the seal of His love (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)
  • accomplish anything in cooperation with God — even the impossible (Mark 9:23)
  • grow and mature spiritually as God’s child (Ephesians 4:15)
  • understand what God’s will is for my life (Ephesians 5:17; Romans 12:2)
  • be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power (Ephesians 6:10)
  • approach God with confidence and freedom through Christ (Ephesians 3:12)
  • overcome any obstacle that stands in my way (Mark 11:23)
  • have the ability to create wealth and glorify God through it (Deuteronomy 8:18; Proverbs 8:17-21)
  • forgive others as Christ has forgiven me (Ephesians 4:32)
  • be kind and compassionate toward others (Ephesians 4:32)
  • choose to give thanks for everything (Ephesians 5:20)
  • stand firm in my faith clothed in God’s armor when troubles come (Ephesians 6:13)

What I Have

Every time we declare God’s truth over ourselves, we are realigning to our God identity. We fix our eyes on Him, while refusing to allow the past to define us. God points our gaze to the future and the fullness of our God-potential.

The Bible says a lot about who we are and what we can do in and through God’s abiding presence. But it also makes powerful declarations about what we have in Him.

I have

  • everything I need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3)
  • received God’s grace poured out on me (Ephesians 1:5-8)
  • a fruitful and productive life (John 15:1-5)
  • the spirit of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7)
  • the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16)
  • an eternal hope through Christ (Ephesians 1:12)
  • everything I need according to God’s riches through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19)
  • a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11)
  • treasure and riches stored for me in secret places (Isaiah 45:3)
  • supernatural peace in Christ (Ephesians 2:14)
  • fresh opportunities and a new beginning in Christ (Isaiah 43:18-19)
  • unhindered access to the Father through Jesus (Ephesians 2:18)

Realignment

May we receive our true self-identification, receiving biblical truth and realigning to our God identity. For most of us, realignment comes as a life-long process, allowing what God says about us to become our standard.

As I walked through inner healing and the Steps to Freedom these truths began to develop strong roots in my life. Rather than a leap of faith, each truth grounded me in the soil of God’s love, allowing enduring growth and spiritual fruit.

May the same be true for you. May each truth become life-giving nourishment. And most of all, may what God says about us become our self-identification.

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This Christmas Celebrate the Ordinary

This Christmas Celebrate the Ordinary

Even as Christians we can easily become caught up in the busy swirl of the season. But this year may we slow down to celebrate the ordinary.

Many lesser things allure us: $700,000,000 signing contracts, massive stadiums and empires, luxury this, and luxury that. As the spotlight shifts from one elaborate story to another, we might extend our applause here or there. Whether intentional or not, we are tempted to ignore, or even scoff at, the ordinary.

How often do we applaud the mother sacrificially caring for her children? Do we acknowledge the father who consistently wakes up each morning and works to provide for his family/ What about the quiet caregiver who lovingly supports and provides for the infirm or vulnerable? These and many others may not rank high in the list of those worthy of celebrating. However, in God’s record book I think they do.

As we take a brief look at the Christmas story, we quickly discover those whom God celebrates. May it inspire us to also celebrate the ordinary.

An Ordinary Woman

Mary, by all appearances, led an unassuming life of quiet obedience to God. She was just one among many young virgin women, awaiting their wedding day. Engaged to a handsome and righteous young man, she anticipated the time when they would soon consummate their marriage, set up their own home, and begin a family together.

Her life portrayed a vibrant example of how to celebrate the ordinary, like generations of women before her. Until the day when everything changed!

The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!”
Luke 1:28

The angel explained how God had chosen her to become the mother of the awaited Messiah — the King who would rule and reign forever. Questions flooded her mind.

“‘How will this be; Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?'”
Luke 1:34

The angel reminded Mary that “no word from God will ever fail” (Luke 1:37).

Until now, Mary appeared completely ordinary. But, we see the extraordinary character and godly integrity of this young woman as she gives God her complete, “Yes!” And with that she laid her reputation, and quite possibly her future marriage, on the line. She risked losing everything, choosing to celebrate the ordinary so we could one day receive Jesus as Savior.

No Ordinary Baby

Mary, through the Holy Spirit, conceived no ordinary Baby. This Baby — fully God and yet fully man — would save people from their sins.

“So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.
Luke 1:35

Jesus gave up the splendor of Heaven to be wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger. He set aside all His power and authority to become robed in frail humanity.

“Rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!”
Philippians 2:7-8

Jesus willingly chose the suffering of human life for our good, not His. He came as no ordinary baby to cancel a debt which we owed but could never pay.

Too often, we end our remembrance of the first Christmas here. And when we do, we miss the opportunity to celebrate the ordinary in another key figure involved.

An Ordinary Man

Joseph, like any ordinary man, busied himself in preparation for his future bride and family. The day was fast approaching when he and Mary would finally become man and wife. As a typical young couple, they held great hope and anticipation for their future together.

The news of Mary’s pregnancy shattered all that! How could Mary betray him? And in the worst possible way? He considered every option. But because he was righteous, he decided to quietly divorce her. Until an angel spoke to him through a dream.

“…’Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.'”
Matthew 1:20

Without hesitation, he took Mary into his home as his wife.

Joseph’s ready response should cause us to celebrate the ordinary who became extraordinary. This one ordinary Joe obeyed God completely and sacrificed himself fully for the sake, not only of his family, but ultimately for you and me.

Celebrate the Ordinary

Yes, Jesus, this no ordinary Baby, should be the central focus of the Christmas season. Yes, Mary deserves full recognition for the humble part she played in the birth of the Messiah. But this Christmas may we also celebrate the radical willingness of ordinary Joseph.

Ordinary Joe said “Yes!” to the commitment of marriage when divorce would have been the easier option. He said “Yes!” to adopting, loving, and raising a son not his own. Ordinary Joe said “Yes!” to sacrificial living for the sake of Jesus. He also said “No!’ to social status and the acceptance of his peers. Ordinary Joe said “No!” to defining his life by the expectations of others.

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”
Matthew 1:24-25

This Christmas may we consider ordinary Joe who allowed God to change his mind, to shift his focus, to soften his heart, and to bring Jesus home. Joseph gave God room for whatever He desired even when it cost, even when it hurt, even when he didn’t understand, and it went against the grain of all human desire.

Value the Ordinary

God has a perfect plan for each one of us. We may feel our lives are far too ordinary to be used by Him. But let’s allow this beautiful and incredible reminder of two ordinary people, Joseph and Mary, to give us fresh vision and assurance that God is able to use our ordinary lives for His extraordinary purposes.

May we be inspired to put God first, to walk in radical obedience to God’s Word, to love sacrificially, to give up our reputation for the sake of Kingdom worth, to live by our convictions not circumstances, and to place the good of others over ourselves. But most of all, may we welcome the living Christ into our hearts and homes.

God calls each of us to lay aside personal agendas and expectations. He calls us to enter a life of divine purpose. He asks us to trust him — not blindly but faithfully. God promises us that no sacrifice will ever be wasted. And He welcomes us to live our extraordinary calling through ordinary lives in unity with Him.

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Choosing a Course Reset for the New Year

Choosing a Course Reset for the New Year

Today offers the perfect time to evaluate the past and choose a course reset for the upcoming year, intentionally seeking God’s direction. Of course, we continuously allow the Holy Spirit to monitor our progress and bring adjustments. But there is something significant about stopping, evaluating, and turning to God for wisdom ahead.

I never want to crawl out of season exhausted, dragging myself into a new one without a clear compass point from God. God’s wisdom never fails to lead us into unexpected and exciting futures. We may not see all the bumps and hurdles ahead, but He does. We don’t know what opportunities may open as He prepares the way. How much waste of time and resources might we avoid by turning to Him in advance?

Let Go

The first step in the process is to let go. Who hasn’t used a shopping cart with one worn or stuck wheel? It takes so much more effort to keep from running over innocent children or into stocked shelves. That worn cart pulls us in directions we never intend on going.

There are things we’ve tried to steer through this past season that are just as worn out as that shopping cart. Once useful, they now pull us and others into dangerous territory. Let’s recognize the right time to let go of anything unnecessary in order to embrace whatever new thing God has waiting. Then, we won’t stumble behind worn out “carts” that drag us around.

“We all stumble in many ways.”
James 3:2

I like that word “all.” We keep company with the best of people in our stumbling. Acknowledge any mistakes or failures made by ourselves or others. Then, let’s quickly forgive both us and them. It’s time to let go and leave every hindrance behind. We can’t afford to justify or legitimize carting them into a new season.

Like that worn out shopping cart, some things will keep us from following a straight and purposeful course ahead.

Apply

James offers insight on how to daily apply the principles of God’s Word. He speaks directly to another problem we “all” tend to encounter.

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says … But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
James 1:25

There was only one Person who obeyed God completely. His name was Jesus. The rest of us are works in progress.

Of course this type of reset occurs daily as we meditate on and study God’s “perfect law that gives freedom, and continue in it.” How much more important is it as we end an old season to seek God’s Word for direction?

We all want to experience the full freedom and blessing of God plans for us in the season ahead. So, let’s lay aside our own agendas and pick up the faithful wisdom of God.

Just as we all stumble in many ways, we each stumble in a few predictable ways. But God desires freedom and blessing for us — especially in the greatest areas of our struggle. A course reset may be the turning point from merely listening to confidently walking.

Seek Wisdom

Wisdom stands as a key element in choosing the right course reset.

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”
James 3:13

We may glean insight from knowledgeable people spattering the next trendy “plan” across the internet or from “how-to” books lining the store shelves. But true wisdom comes from God. Wisdom that supercedes all time and place bears the evidence of His divine counsel.

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”
James 3:17

Seeking God’s wisdom never fails to produce positive results. He promises to lovingly guide us into whatever may await.

Jealous Love

I meditated for awhile on the next passage from James.

“… The Spirit that God breathed into our hearts is a jealous Lover who intensely desires to have more and more of us.”
James 4:5 TPT

James gives us the best reason to purposefully set aside time with God for a course reset. The Holy Spirit relentlessly pursues us. He takes it personally when we turn from Him to pursue friendship with the world systems.

Culture influences us far more than we realize, causing us to adopt ways of thinking and doing that are contrary to God’s. When we welcome Holy Spirit into our course reset, we give our greatest Lover opportunity to draw us closer to Himself — realigning our hearts with His.

Surrounded by His love, every course correction becomes easy.

Course Reset

I sense this as a personal challenge — a challenge I share with you — to designate time, focused prayer, and thought to where, or who, we desire to be in a year from now. Let’s give God room to speak into and give new direction to our lives. Let’s worship, pray, and read God’s Word, asking Him to guide the season ahead.

You might want to journal what He says through Bible verses or through God-inspired, God-directed thoughts. Then create a way to highlight those Scripture verses and key words as a reminder in the time ahead.

(Hint: I often need to be reminded of the good things God speaks over my life. So, I post them in a prominent place over my desk or create a bookmark to use in my daily reading. As an artist, I often turn His counsel into an painting, giving His words visible life.)

Change usually occurs gradually and with effort. God commits Himself to helping us as we step into new areas, ministries, business endeavors, or seasons.

Let’s celebrate every success — large or small! May we confidently and boldly choose a course reset as we let go of the things that would steer us off course, apply God’s Word to our personal lives, seek His wisdom, and fall in love with Him all over again.

Blessings my friends! May this be our greatest season yet!

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The Difference Between Zeal and Passion

The Difference Between Zeal and Passion

The more I experience life, the more I realize the difference between zeal and passion. Zeal will lead you where only passion can keep you.

I love young people! Sometimes, I wish I was still one of them. They live “all in.” Whatever they give themselves to do, they do with contagious zeal.

At first glance, zeal and passion may look remarkably similar. But they produce considerably different results. The Bible gives us multiple examples of people who zealously began a work or entered a calling. Over time, many people lost momentum or even veered off course. Why? Let’s look at a few examples for the answer.

Elijah

Elijah became a famous prophet during the times of the kings of Israel. He performed many supernatural signs and miracles. But something shifted. Immediately after challenging the prophets of Baal to a public showdown, the entire nation appeared to turn their hearts back to God. You can read more about it in 1 Kings 18. Most prophets would consider this to be a career high point.

But the wife of the king threatened Elijah’s life. This was no idle threat, since she held the power to do exactly what she promised.

Instead of standing firm in his faith, Elijah ran in fear. That’s not the reaction we would expect from God’s great man of the hour. Elijah immediately hands in his resignation.

“I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”
1 Kings 19:4

We can empathize with Elijah. He had been through a lot. But then, Elijah proceeds to justify himself before God, while issuing a scathing report about the other prophets and his people.

“He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty.”
1 Kings 19:10

God accepts Elijah’s resignation and commissions him to anoint someone else to take his place. Elijah’s ministry immediately begins to dwindle. Zeal had led Elijah to where only passion could keep him. Though he had been very zealous, his passion for God had faded with discouragement, disappointment, and disillusionment. God continued to use him and show him favor, but Elijah’s best years were now behind him.

Zeal will only carry us so far. Eventually, it will fade. Only authentic passion will stay the course.

Peter

Perhaps none of Jesus’ disciples were as zealous as Peter. He quickly rose above the others, becoming one of the top chosen three. Always ready to speak out and move into action, Peter held unquestionable zeal as he followed Jesus.

When Jesus announced He would soon be arrested and crucified, Peter responded,

… ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.‘”
Luke 22:33

And Peter meant it! But zeal took him to where only passion could keep him. Perhaps you know the story. Within hours, Peter denied his Lord — not once, but three times. He wept bitterly over his failure to faithfully stand with Jesus (Matthew 26:75).

Despite Peter’s failure, Jesus valued him immensely and had plans for Peter’s future position in the soon-to-be-formed church. So after Jesus’ resurrection, He confronted Peter, emphasizing the difference between zeal and passion.

“… Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?'”
John 21:15

That’s the question not just for Peter but for all of us. Do you love Me? Do you love Me more than this, or that, or anything?

Three times Jesus posed the same question. “Peter is your love for Me the foundation of your life? If it isn’t, zeal will always fall short. Zeal will lead you where only love can keep you. Love sustains. Love drives us forward. But only your love for Me enables you to carry out any mission. Love equips, empowers, and motivates. But My love will hold you fast. The deep tap root of passion is love — love for Me.”

Paul

One man, more than any other, fiercely stood against the progress of the early church. A man who was extremely zealous. A man who went about imprisoning and murdering every Christian he could get his hands on.

“I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
Galatians 1:14

Though zeal quickly led Saul up the ranks within the religious elite, God knocked him off the high horse of zeal and set him on a more humble course — the course of love and passion. Intimacy with Jesus Christ became Paul’s only pursuit. Everything else flowed from that place of love and intimacy.

‘But whatever were gain to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage that I may gain Christ.”
Philippians 3:7-8

Paul perhaps became the most passionate and devoted follower of Jesus this world has known. He recognized the difference between zeal and passion. Zeal drove him to kill many. But through passion for Jesus, many millions have found live and faith in Christ.

Zeal and Passion

As much as I appreciate the zeal of youth, passion rises strongest through maturity — not a maturity of age or faith but a maturity of deep devotion. Zeal quickly rises, is often volatile, and eventually evaporates. Passion for Jesus grows, intensifies over time, and lasts for eternity. Passion accomplishes more than zeal ever could.

 And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
Ephesians 3:16-21

A passion for Jesus develops in the incubator of intimacy. There is no substitute. As we intimately know and remain in His unfailing love, our passion grows and deepens. God is a consuming fire. In the fire of passionate love, we will “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”

There is no other way! No short cuts! Intimacy fuels the true passion of infinite love that will lead us beyond anything imaginable.

Do we, or will we, love Him more than “these”?

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Know Your Call! Stay in the Right Lane!

Know Your Call! Stay in the Right Lane!

Perhaps the most difficult thing to discover is the call of God on our lives. Next most difficult is to stay in the right lane of our calling.

Like many vehicles, my car beeps a warning when I veer out of my lane. Why? Because veering off lane creates a dangerous situation for me and everyone else. Of course, if I use the signal indicator before changing lanes, I provide everyone with adequate warning of my intentions.

I’ve lived several decades and made more than a few lane changes in my life. Some changes occurred abruptly — the sudden swerves to avoid danger or navigate a sharp corner. For the most part, however, I perceive these changes a long time in advance, allowing for minor or consistent corrections in choices or shifts in priorities.

As annoying as the warning beeper is in my car, I appreciate the safety feature. I want to know how to stay in the right lane.

The apostle Paul knew his call. He provides an excellent example of how he faithfully stayed in his lane.

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.”
Romans 1:1

By God’s Grace

Whatever the call on our lives, we remember that it is all by God’s grace!

“God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1:9

By God’s grace, He has called each of us to Himself — not so that we could do more for Him, but so that we could be united with Him in fellowship.

He honestly doesn’t need us to do anything. He purely loves us and wants us to know and enjoy an intimate relationship with Him.

But part of our calling to Him does include a calling to serve Him. Those He calls He also equips.

“Just think — you don’t need a thing, you’ve got it all. All God’s gifts are right in front of you as you wait expectantly for our Master Jesus to arrive on the scene for the Finale. And not only that but God himself is right alongside to keep you steady and on track until things are all wrapped up by Jesus. God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that.”
1 Corinthians 1:7-9 MSG

Isn’t that amazing! God makes His call known to us and He helps us to stay in the right lane by keeping us steady and on the right track.

Know Your Call

The Corinthian church experienced more than a few problems. They became known for disputes and disruptions. Paul makes his call clear to them.

“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel — not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
1 Corinthians 1:17

Ministry, and life in general, carry many responsibilities of things that could be done, should be done, or ought to be done. It’s a constant battle to focus on the essentials. We may not feel our calling is significant, but it is. Every act of kindness and everything done out of love has immeasurable impact on those around you. Then that love will flow from them to others and to still others more.

Never underestimate or minimize your call. Own it! Walk in it! Foster it!

God called Paul to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Obedience to the Call

Obedience resembles not just getting into our car but driving it. You will have no opportunity to stay in the right lane while parked in the garage. We use vehicles to take us from one place to another. Obedience turns on the engine, pulls our lives into motion, and moves us into our lane of ministry and service.

Paul placed concentrated effort into extensive learning. Then he walked in the misguided authority of human wisdom and position. The results proved devastating to those whom he imprisoned and murdered for their faith.

After God called and equipped Paul, everything changed. Paul immediately shifted into the right lane.

“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power. so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”
1 Corinthians 2:4-5

Paul’s pre-Christian influence came through “wise and persuasive words.” But now in obedience to God’s call and the anointing of the Holy Spirit everything flowed through God’s power.

Stay in the Right Lane

Because Paul obeyed God to stay in the right lane, the impact of his life probably comes second only to Jesus Christ. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote about twenty-eight percent of the New Testament. He is perhaps the most quoted writer of New Testament scripture.

His in-person preaching reached tens or even hundreds of thousands of people. His writings have turned untold millions to confess their faith in Jesus Christ.

How could one man impact so many people through the centuries?

  • First, Paul received and responded to God’s grace confessing Jesus Christ as Lord.
  • Second, Paul committed himself to full obedience to God’s call.
  • Third, Paul continually demonstrated through his life how to stay in the right lane.

“But we preach Christ crucified … Christ the power of God and wisdom of God.”
1 Corinthians 1:23-24

Prayer

Father God, we receive the grace to know You, the One true God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Thank you for welcoming us into fellowship with You and for calling and equipping us to share the gospel with others.
Whether our sharing takes place in our homes, with friends, in the marketplace, or from behind a pulpit doesn’t matter. We desire to walk out our calling in full obedience. Keep us steady, Lord, and on the right track. Help us to stay in the right lane. May the Holy Spirit “beep” a warning whenever we veer from the path You have called us to walk.
I ask for boldness and faithfulness to love as You have called us to love and to serve as You have called us to serve. Fill us with contentment to stay in the right lane.
And Lord, may our lives become a “demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”
Amen.

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Becoming — Reaching for Purpose and Meaning

Becoming — Reaching for Purpose and Meaning

Whether we acknowledge it or not, each one of us is reaching for some kind of purpose and meaning behind our existence. We all subconsciously ask, “Why am I here? What am I supposed to be doing with my life?” We all want our lives to matter.

Recently, I had the tremendous privilege of talking with a group of young adults. They are living centre in the age of pursuit. Some attended university. Other entrepreneurs had begun new businesses. Yet others pursued relationships they hoped would lead to life-long commitment and fulfillment.

One of the young men asked me, “Who do you want to be like?” He explained that keeping someone we desired to emulate in our focus would help us change our lives for the better.

I surprised him with me answer. “I want to be like me. No one in all the world carries the potential to be me. So, I aim to be fully me — the idea God had in mind when He first thought of me.”

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
1 John 3:2

At first glance, my answer sounds arrogant. But two things have incited the greatest transformation in my life. The first is coming to know God more fully. As I grow to know Him and His heart better, even in the smallest ways, my desire increases to live a reflection of who He is. The second pursues to discover the unique creation God had in mind when He formed me.

Knowing God

Human minds will never comprehend the immensity of glorious God. He is too awesome, too wonderful, too magnificent, too glorious … for us to understand. Yet, He desires to be known. He looks for those curious enough to seek Him.

“‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom. Let not the might man glory in his might. Nor let the rich man glory in his riches. But let him who glories glory in this. That he understands and knows Me. That I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,’ says the LORD.”
Jeremiah 9:23-23 NKJV

God makes Himself clearly visible to those hungry to know Him.

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”
Romans 1:18-20

As we read the Bible, we find these recurring words, “So you may know that I am your God.” I brought you out of bondage so that you may know. It was Me who healed your bodies so that you may know. I gave you this land and established you so that you may know. I continuously make Myself known to you. He is a mystery. Yet, He reveals Himself to us.

The First Steps

So, the first steps come through an awareness of knowing God’s character through His love, faithfulness, grace, and goodness. God awareness inspires so to reach for genuine purpose and meaning. All true purpose and meaning are found in Christ.

We were created in God’s image for divine purpose and meaning. The wise teacher of Ecclesiastes concluded that all the opulence the world could offer stands meaningless in comparison.

“‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’
says the Teacher.
‘Everything is meaningless!’ …
Now all has been heard;
hear is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.”

Ecclesiastes 12:8,13

Are there powerful and successful men and women worth emulating? Yes, of course. Paul invited others, to “imitate me, as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). But the greatest One to emulate and imitate is God Himself. As we do, we will find ultimate purpose and calling.

The Second Steps

To walk out the second steps in fulfilling our purpose and calling requires us to discover God’s personal plan for our lives — our God-given identity. However, we can’t turn to biblical reference points for this.

Of all the billions of people only you can be you. You, and I, owe it to God and to each other to be that one. God had his best idea when He created you. No matter how far off that path you may feel you have wandered, you will forever be God’s good idea.

So, who am I? Who are you? Not the present you or me! But the you and me God had in mind before the creation of the world. And yes, He thought of us even then!

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Ephesians 2:10

As we walk in relationship with Christ and in obedience to Holy Spirit, we begin to see ourselves through His eyes. As we live with and through Him, He begins to reveal things about ourselves we previously didn’t understand or even know.

It is in His Presence that we become — that we reach our full purpose and meaning. The divine Architect slowly reveals His plans. With each passing season, He desires us to discover a freedom in being and a fulfillment in living. Giftings and passions slowly rise to the surface.

You Fit

We weren’t created for the world, so we will never “fit” in it. But the skin we live in will begin to fit and form around the image He created us to be the closer we walk with Him. Our full purpose comes with eternal design.

As we begin to live with eternity in mind, we will automatically fulfill our earthly calling. This short life stands as a mere preparation for the eternal one to come. Our lives are too short to waste by imitating even the best people around us.

May we each see God in previously unrealized dimensions. May we also grasp in a fuller way, all He designed us to be. Then may we set our hearts to fully reach our God-given purpose and meaning.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.
Philippians 3:12-13

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You Belong Here! The Essential Need to Belong

You Belong Here! The Essential Need to Belong

We all possess within us the essential need to belong — to know beyond all doubt that we fit and that others deeply care for us.

Perhaps more than ever before people feel alienated and disconnected. Marriage and family breakdown now represents the cultural norm. Homelessness creates huge concerns in many nations. Increasingly, we see people drift toward subcultures of gangs and alternative communities. Why? Because we all need to belong, even if the belonging comes with destructive and damaging lifestyles.

No matter your age or social status, you belong here.

In the Genesis account of creation, we find a beautiful rhythm and flow. God said. It was so. God saw that it was good. Except for one time! One exception stood in stark contrast.

“The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
Genesis 2:18

The Hebrew word for “helper” is ‘ê·zer, meaning counterpart or a part opposite. The word also describes God when He comes to our aid as a help and shield. It expresses a sense of caring community and belonging.

Belonging

A few years ago, I was offered a position where I could utilize my gifts and further stretch my abilities. After a year of minimal input, I resigned. Why? I felt no sense of belonging. These were my people, my clan, but they were too busy to allow for the inclusion of others.

Have you been a part of a group but never felt like you belonged? I think we all have. Perhaps it was your family, a business, an organization, or even a church? Loneliness within a group induces more pain and alienation than the loneliness of actually being alone. God still speaks! His Word has not changed. “It is not good for (anyone) to be alone.”

God designed marriage and the family unit as the primary context for belonging. Despite natural family breakdowns, God secures us into His own eternal family.

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”
1 John 3:1-2

All who believe may have different mothers, but we all have the same Father. God has adopted us as His own children into His family.

The Price of Belonging

God fulfilled our essential need to belong through His Son, Jesus Christ.

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”
1 Peter 1:18-19

As proof, God deposited the Holy Spirit in each one of us. His Spirit continues to reassure us that we belong to Him forever.

“Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come.”
2 Corinthians 5:5

Few things seem more incompatible than the Holy Spirit dwelling within corrupted humanity. Why would God — the perfection of holiness — choose to live in us and desire fellowship with us? Why would He go to such extreme measures to adopt us into His own family?

Met Us

God meets us where we are and as we are despite the wretchedness of our condition. With intense love and grace, He welcomes us. He sees in each face a reflection of beauty and worth — someone of value and dignity. Every person, no matter where they have come from or what they have done, was created by God, for fellowship with God, and for community within His family. Everyone! No exceptions!

“This one will say, ‘I am the LORD’s‘ … And another will write on his hand, ‘Belonging to the LORD …”
Isaiah 44:5

He is our Helper, our ‘ê·zer, who comes to our aid, and fulfills that essential need to belong that is rooted in each of us. In Him, we live secure.

“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
John 10:28-30

You Belong

As I write, I am reminded of seasons (some very long seasons) in my own life story where the cup of belonging felt empty. I remember well the pain of feeling abandoned and rejected. Many of you understand the disorientation, grief, and loneliness I’m talking about. Today, that can change!

Others may prove fickle, but God will never leave you.

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
Deuteronomy 31:8

Father, I ask that every person reading this blog would find the essential need to belong fulfilled through You. May they personally sense Your ‘ê·zer — that You are present to aid, help, and shield them. Plant each one in communities of love and compassion. Holy Spirit speak gently to everyone, bringing them to health and wholeness. Give them courage to abandon unhealthly communities that will ultimately produce increased pain and loss. Surround them with people who see beyond exterior facades, or roughness, and minister to their deep need to belong. Convince each one of their value in Your eyes. Root them in Your love and goodness.
Amen.

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Possess our Full Potential — Claim our Inheritance

Possess our Full Potential — Claim our Inheritance

What if we received notification that we possess the rights to a massive estate. Would we claim our inheritance? Whether we realize it or not, we have been given just such an opportunity. What will we do?

After careful investigation, we would probably verify the potential and proceed to stake our claim. But what if taking possession of the inheritance demanded extreme effort or involved high risk? What if it required us to step into situations we’ve never experienced or feel unqualified to do? We might have to fight for it, defend it, or develop new skills to exercise it.

To possess our full potential rarely, if ever, comes easy, served on a silver platter. Consequently, few rarely achieve full potential. The children of Israel give us a perfect example.

“See, the LORD your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
Deuteronomy 1:21

God explicitly defined the inheritance. He unequivocally tells them it is theirs for the taking. Yet history proves they never fully took possession of what God had given to them.

A Gift

We often view boundaries as limitations. But God establishes wide boundaries for us. David sang,

“He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.”
Psalm 18:19

In Psalm 31:8, he rephrased it. “You have not given me into the hands of the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place.” The inheritance God offers us, not just for eternity, but now, spreads farther and wider than we could imagine.

This weekend I attended a prestigious art show, including the best works of the best artists who display in the best galleries across our province. I came away disappointed. Though the artistry within many pieces was clearly visible, something was lacking. As a amateur artist, I sensed a missing ingredient through these skilled and acclaimed artisans— something that training and natural ability cannot provide.

For them and for us, to possess our full potential, we must claim our inheritance in and through Christ. That complete inheritance comes only by cooperating with and through the Holy Spirit’s divine leading and insight. It’s a gift! A divine opportunity grasped by many, even though it is available to all.

This isn’t about art but applies to every aspect of life. Working with God and in obedience to Him will open access to potential no one and nothing else could offer.

Go Up

This may seem obvious, but we only receive our inheritance by reaching for and laying hold of it. Though a gift from God, we must rise to the occasion to accept it.

As long as Israel walked with God and followed His leading, they succeeded. They began well. They achieved much. But they settled for less. Too soon, they forgot to fight and cushioned themselves in comfort.

Several years ago, after an mental breakdown, my counsellor said, “Healing may cost you more than you are willing to pay. It may even cost you your marriage.” But after decades of walking in the desert of depression, I knew I couldn’t turn back. It was all or nothing — life or death. Whatever it took, I headed toward freedom and wholeness.

God beckons us forward — to leave the desert of whatever has held us back. For each of us adversity looks different. But the way the enemy uses it to steal, kill, and destroy our potential will bear similarities. It’s time! Let’s all go up and claim our inheritance.

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.”
Isaiah 60:1

Take Possession

The smallest child creates ingenious ways to reach cookies on even the highest shelf. They stretch their limits, pursuing their desire with undistracted focus. Who among us dares to take that cookie out of the hand of a child? Good luck!!! Once they have taken possession, you can expect screaming, kicking, and flailing to maintain their grasp. Adult size and strength fail to intimidate them. Am I right?

We aren’t fighting for cookies! We fight a battle for a much more significant potential — to claim our inheritance. I am grieved over how much potential I have left to pursue so late in life. Whether young or not-so-young, God prompts all who will listen, “Go up and take possession.”

Like a fearless child, let’s reach for and grasp all God has for us and for our children after us. The effect of our efforts reaches far beyond ourselves. Our victory will become the victory of others.

“Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged.”
Deuteronomy 1:21

Once that little child tastes a cookie, cookies are all they want. Once we taste the goodness and generosity of God, nothing else will satisfy. Fear won’t stop us! Discouragement won’t stand in our way!

May we learn a lesson from those who quit too soon and settled for mediocrity (Joshua 17). May we possess a willingness to do whatever God calls us to do and to go wherever He calls us to go. It’s not too late to claim our inheritance.

Prayer

Father, we come asking, seeking, and knocking. We come, claiming our inheritance. You have promised us more than we presently experience. Strengthen our feeble faith as we press into more of You in every dimension. We break agreement with apathy, refusing to settle for less. We choose to cooperate with Heaven’s agenda and God’s purpose until we reach our full kingdom potential. Because You have made us strong and courageous, we cancel all alignment with fear and discouragement. You have made us strong and courageous. We lift our eyes beyond adversity to You, for You are where our help comes from. May the world be astounded as You unleash Your inheritance to and through us, seeing Your kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven. We lay aside excuses and abandon comfort. Picking up the weapons of warfare, we set our sights to take possession of all You have for us. We are here to claim our inheritance. No matter what it takes. We will not turn around or back down now!

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