Written by Dan LaValla Tuesday, 05 November 2013 00:00

My last blog, Volunteering is for Suckers was titled from the saying of a personal friend who is not a Christian. That piece was written with an objective tone in response to the recent challenges caused by the decline of volunteerism in the U.S. Since Biblical’s faculty is blogging with an emphasis on missional themes, I wanted to use this post to tease out the issue of volunteering with an emphasis on its significance for Christians living missionally. 

According to federal statistics, the current rate of volunteering through religious organizations decreases with each younger generation. That is, the percentage of Americans volunteering through religious organizations steadily decreases with 45.9% of Older Adults volunteering through religious organizations to 38.2% for Baby Boomers to 28.5% for Gen Xers to 28.4% for Millennials. Since the rate of volunteering is also decreasing during this same period (2002-2011), this rules out that the percentage for volunteering through religious organizations is decreasing due to more people choosing to volunteer in other sectors. Thus, not only are there less volunteers, but fewer existing volunteers are choosing to do so through religious organizations. Given the widely known fact that church attendance has been declining steadily for the past decade, theses statistics should not be surprising.

While these statistics are not surprising, they should be disturbing and of great concern for the missional church. To be missional is to be actively participating in God’s mission to reconcile others to Him through Christ. To do this well, Christians are called to exercise their faith through word and deed. We do this by sharing and teaching the Gospel and by demonstrating it through our actions.

Jesus summed the Law up in two commandments (Matt 22:37-39), "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Love requires engagement and service; it is relational and relationships with our neighbors require investment of our time to engage in conversations and shared activities where we serve one another’s needs as if it was as important as our own needs. In the parable of the sheep and goats (Matt. 25:31-46), Jesus emphasizes the point that it is especially important for His followers who have an abundance of resources to share with those who are lacking the basic necessities of life or those who are in need due to illness or imprisonment. When we provide food, water, clothing and shelter or give care to the sick or visit those in prison, Jesus states that we are worthy to be counted among those He has chosen.

According to dictionary definitions, a volunteer is a person who renders aid, performs a service, or assumes an obligation of one’s own free will and without pay. Thus, to be an effective missional Christian, it is important that one be intentional about dedicating one’s time in studying God’s word, sharing the Gospel message with others, and finding avenues to volunteer in matters that are important to serving the church and the needs of others. Give of yourself, your skills, your time, and your love in a way that is compassionate and effective in communicating the Gospel and meeting the needs of your neighbor. Pastors and missional leaders create and facilitate such avenues that will help Christians under your care to volunteer their commitment to such missional pursuits.

Dan LaValla is Director of Library Services and Development Associate at Biblical. He is Chair of the Endowment Committee for the American Theological Library Association and is very active in his church and community, coaching youth baseball and football and has served on several community boards. Click here to see Dan's faculty bio.


Written by Charles Zimmerman Friday, 01 November 2013 14:46

Where have they gone & where are they now?

This month we visit with Gabe Wang-Herrera, a very recent graduate. Gabe is planting a church in the Frankford section of Philly; I walked past the building every day walking from the el to Frankford High. If you would like to learn more about Gabe’s ministry, please contact him.

What years did you attend at Biblical, and what degree(s) did you receive?

My first class at Biblical Seminary was in the winter session of 2009, it was with Dr. Zimmerman and it really sealed the deal for me to stay the course. I graduated in 2012 with a Master of Divinity degree from the LEAD Urban Concentration Program. At graduation, I was given the distinct honor of receiving the President’s Award for Excellence in the Master of Divinity Program.

What have you been doing since then?

Since 2005, I have been pastoring a small church plant in the Frankford area of Philadelphia. During my years at seminary (from 2009-2012) I was able to make personal use of a lot of what I was learning from my professors and from the resources to which they exposed us. And I was also able to apply my learning to my congregation and to our context. But all throughout my 39 months of seminary my congregation stayed at a certain level: small.

However, after graduation I was able to see God grow the people He had entrusted to me both spiritually and numerically. I get excited thinking about how he is redeeming and reconciling more and more folks in the inner city who are reflecting his glory day by day.

And a huge part of “my” ministry is my family. My wife (Pearl) and two beautiful daughters (Mia and Juliet) are my primary ministry and they have been instrumental in keeping me fired up instead of burned out in the ministry. My wife is amazingly resourceful and has done a fantastic job of directing our children’s ministry and delegating our women’s ministry. My two girls (Mia – 10 & Juliet – 8) are also growing up in the ministry and I consistently invite them to be a part of people’s lives as they learn to love God and love others.

Share a favorite memory from your Biblical days.

I have many amazing memories from my time at Biblical Seminary. From the pre-class conversations that would occur right before the professor would begin his discussion on “all things missional” to the very short breaks we would have (which I would consistently use to refine my Ping Pong skills) to the 45 minute carpool ride home that I would take with my brothers-in-arms from Philadelphia (Rob, Ben and Tommy) as we would discuss how we were being “broke up” from the spiritual depth of our classes. Those rides home would also entail times of prayer for one another and for our families. Rich, rich memories.

I don’t know if I have one, single favorite memory, they are really all that good. But I do have a memorable one. It was the day that I committed to being a student at Biblical seminary. Dr. Anderson was leading an open house for some perspective students and their spouses and as I soaked in the information regarding the distinctiveness of Biblical Seminary, I sensed the Holy Spirit’s prompting that this was the right place and the right time for me to be stretched and challenged by His Word in community. While I am no longer an active student at Biblical, I am no less a student and learner in life; prepared that much more by an exceptional institution.

Contact information:
Cell phone: 610-283-2969l; email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ; Facebook: Gabriel Wang-Herrera

Charles Zimmerman is the Thomas V. Taylor Professor of Practical Theology. He also serves as Teaching Pastor at Calvary Church in Souderton. He is married to Kim and they have two daughters, Ashley and Megan.


Written by Bryan Maier Friday, 01 November 2013 00:00

I am finally entering the 21stcentury.  

In a moment of weakness during one of those never-ending negotiating moments with my son, I agreed to sign up for Facebook. My son gave me a brief tutorial and after a few moments I was emerging from my relational cave into the world of communicating with thousands of people online.

What a rush!

It was so encouraging to see immediately that ten people were requesting to be my “friend”, until I realized that my son has over 100 friends on his page and that is low for a guy his age. Anyway, after a week of swimming in the deep water of social media, here are some things I have learned.

  1. No event is too mundane for Facebook. Part of the reason I signed up for Facebook was to provide a salve for my existential loneliness.  But within the first day, I had received recipes, gardening tips and a detailed narration of someone’s trip to the mall. Really?
  2. People talk in sound bites (lots of them). Communication is really different on Facebook. Most posts are one or two sentences. Maybe we should require some politicians to communicate only on Facebook.
  3. Many of our counseling graduates are thriving (Praise God!).  It is such an encouragement to reconnect with them and to see where they have landed and how they are living out the gospel in many different settings.
  4. Some of my relatives must have barren lives (See #1).
  5. The term “friend” has to be seriously redefined. It has nothing to do with knowing or being known. Rather I think it means that they can free-associate on your page and you can return the favor.
  6. If your Dean includes a photo of a man and woman in bed together in his Biblical blog on sex, that photo will end up on your Facebook page (even if you have not “friended” him yet!).
  7. My first date in middle school does not remember our date.  This is too painful to elaborate on.
  8. Facebook can be addicting. At least cigarette smokers limit themselves often to a pack (20 cigarettes) a day.  Things I never cared about a week ago suddenly occupy way too much of my frontal lobes.
  9. My son is much more skilled in Facebook that I ever will be.  On the one hand this is exciting to think that at least someone in our family understands how people communicate in the 21stcentury. On the other hand it makes me feel old. Very old.
  10. Facebook can be a great tool (used properly).  Overall, I think will be a good learning experience for me.  Now run to your computer and friend me so I can have as many friends as my son.

Bryan Maier, Psy. D. is an Associate Professor of Counseling & Psychology in the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates. 


Written by David Lamb Monday, 28 October 2013 00:00


Currently I am on no prescription medicine.  A year ago, however, I was on three separate meds and they seemed to make me feel worse.  So my various medical professionals (at one point, I was seeing seven of them) kept switching my prescriptions to find the right cocktail.  Eventually, God healed me, but it seemed to be in spite of the drugs. 





Psalm 41 offers a different prescription for health.  I’m going to look at just the first three verses.

  • Psalm 41:1 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.
  • Blessed is the one who considers the poor!
  • In the day of trouble
  • the LORD delivers him;
  • 2 the LORD protects him
  • and keeps him alive
  • he is called blessed in the land;
  • you do not give him up to the will of his enemies.
  • 3 The LORD sustains him on his sickbed;
  • in his illness you restore him to full health.

According to Psalm 41, people who consider the poor are blessed.  What does it mean to consider the poor?  The Hebrew verb here could be translated literally as “cause to prosper” (the Hebrew verb is a hiphil) which sounds more than just thinking about them, or even giving them a handout.  Considering would involve cash, food, education, health care—anything they would need to prosper. 

Notice, however, the text here does not command its readers to care for the poor (although Scripture does that repeatedly elsewhere: Exo. 22:25; 23:11; Lev. 19:10; Deut. 15:7, 11; Matt. 19:21; Luke 14:13; etc.).  It is merely saying that those who consider the poor will be blessed.  So, if you don’t feel a need for divine blessing, you can stop reading this blog post. 

I, for one, am always looking for ways to get blessed.  But perhaps some of you have too much blessing already?  

How will the ones who consider the poor be blessed?  Over the next few verses the psalm lists seven blessings for those who consider the poor.

  1. God delivers them during times of crisis.
  2. God protects them.
  3. God keeps them alive.
  4. They are called blessed in the land.
  5. God doesn’t give them up to their enemies.
  6. God sustains them on their sickbed.
  7. God restores them to full health.
  8. The seven blessings can be grouped into three categories.

First, blessing involves deliverance

God delivers, protects and keeps alive the ones who help the poor.  What is the day of trouble?  Financial?  Spiritual?  Emotional?  From the end of verse 2 it sounds like it is military.  Being given into the will of enemies.  Notice, here that the pronoun switches from God as third person (“the LORD” = YHWH) to God as second person (“you”).  A similar switch happens in Psalm 23:4.  In the midst of this enemy related crisis God is being spoke to directly as a sign of his presence. 

Second, blessing involves health

God sustains the consider-er of the poor on their sickbed and restores them to health fully. As someone who’s struggled a lot physically this past year, my ears perk up to this language. My doctors were quick to prescribe a litany of medications. I’d love to hear a doctor prescribe caring for the poor as part of a prescription for health. There is something wonderfully therapeutic and healing about caring for another person in need. I don’t fully understand it, but I believe it. As we bless others, God blesses us.

Third, blessing involves blessing

They are called blessed in the land. Yes, one of the blessings is blessing. I know that sounds circular. But the psalmist places this 4thblessing in the middle of the seven apparently for emphasis. Do you need a blessing? This listen to the words of this psalm.

Is this supposed to be like a magic formula for success?

Put your penny in the gumball machine (help the poor) and out comes your gumball (deliverance, healing, blessing).  Not really. 

Jesus considered the poor more than any other person on the planet and God gave him into the hands of his enemies.  Just a few verses later in 41:9 the psalmist speaks of being betrayed in a way that foreshadows Jesus’ betrayal: “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me” (see also John 13:18).

So, let’s not view this psalm in a mechanistic manner, but in general, God still promises that blessing does come to those who consider the poor.  Bless the poor, and God will bless you. 

My wife Shannon is better at considering the poor than I am. Several times a year, she signs up our family to prepare dinner for and sleep overnight with families who are temporary homeless at a nearby church. Usually, I finagle my way out of it. (“I won’t sleep well on those thin mattresses, and I need to be fresh to teach the Bible the next day” - hmm, that sounds suspiciously like the priest or Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan: Luke 10:31-32). Last month, my finagle failed, so Shannon and I spent a delightful evening hanging out and telling stories with a young family and their two year-old daughter. 

I didn't sleep well that night, but the Sunday school class I taught the next day still went fine.  And God blessed me through the experience.

How have you been blessed by considering the poor?

(If you’d like me to write a blog post on a particular psalm tell me a comment or an email.) 

David Lamb is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical. He’s the husband of Shannon, father of Nathan and Noah, and the author of God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?He blogs regularly at http://davidtlamb.com/. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/david-lamb.



Written by Derek Cooper Friday, 25 October 2013 00:00

Throughout the history of the church, commentators on the epistle of James have variously reconciled the author’s view on the doctrine of justification with the apostle Paul’s by explaining that they were either referring to two different circumstances or that one’s works perfected or illustrated one’s true faith. Certain interpreters in the sixteenth century, however, opposed the reconciliation of James and Paul. Martin Luther’s largely negative remarks on James, for instance, were both widespread and enduring.

     Although post-Reformation Protestants adopted many of Luther’s views—most significantly, the doctrine of justification by faith alone,which asserts that people are justified before God by faith and not by anything they do—they did not reject the canonical authority of James as Luther had done. This is especially the case for Puritan interpreters. Those in the Puritan tradition, such as the English biblical commentator Thomas Manton, collectively regarded the letter of James as apostolic (written by an apostle), canonical (correctly included in the canon as “Scripture”), and even theologically significant (since it demonstrated the importance of works after salvation).

Beginning with the post-Reformation commentators, Puritan interpretation of James 2:14-26 focused on two interrelated themes: the analogy of faith and scope, which allowed for the reconciliation of Paul and James. First, the “analogy of faith” became a cardinal doctrine within Reformed biblical interpretation. This is especially apparent in troublesome passages like James 2:14-26, which appeared to contradict theologically fundamental statements of Paul’s such as, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28, ESV). In short, the analogy of faith restricted what any given passage of Scripture could mean since no passage could signify something contrary to the cardinal articles of the faith. In the case of James 2:14-26, the Puritans believed that Romans 3:28 prohibited that James 2:14-26 could mean that a person could be saved before God by works.

Second, the primary way for Puritans to interpret James 2:14-26 in accordance with the analogy of faith was by carefully recognizing the “scope” of both James and Paul, with the term “scope” referring to the endpoint of any given passage (John Calvin, for instance, argued that the “scope” of all Scripture was Christ). According to Puritan interpreters like Manton, the error of theologians like Martin Luther was their failure to correctly identify the “scope” of Romans and James. Rather than appealing to the biblical canon itself, for instance, Luther appealed to another authority—namely, the principle that Scripture is only correctly so called if it preaches Christ. The Puritans, by contrast, appealed directly to Scripture, and thus interpreted James in light of Paul in a way that reconciled the two according to the analogy of faith. Puritan interpreters believed that the “scope” of Romans was justification. The “scope” of James, therefore, was not justification—at least not justification before God. The Puritan mindset can be formulated as follows:

  1. The analogy of faith determines that Scripture coheres (and accords with the fundamental articles of faith).
  2. Apparent discrepancies in Scripture are to be resolved not simply theologically but exegetically—by noting the “scope,” “drift,” “proposition,” “argument,” or general point of each book and each section.
  3. The scope of Romans is justification before God.
  4. The scope of James is not justification before God.
  5. Thus Paul and James do not contradict each other.

Although the modern-day architect of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, Martin Luther, would not have disagreed with each of the Puritans’ propositions, he never would have formulated them in this way. In fact, even the very first article—that the analogy of faith determines that Scripture coheres—indicates a difference between Luther and the Puritans. Given the fluidity of the canon during the early part of the sixteenth century, interpreters like Luther developed other interpretive methods when adjudicating the relation between Paul and James. As mentioned above, Luther developed the hermeneutic that all canonical books must preach Christ (and certainly not works); if they did not, they were not properly called “Scripture.” Since Luther believed that James did not preach Christ, Luther relegated James to a secondary canonical status; the Puritans, by contrast, reconciled it with the “scope” of Paul’s thought: justification by faith alone.

Despite the Puritans’ sharp disagreement with Luther over the canonicity of James and his use of “scope,” they nevertheless fully agreed with him that Paul’s Letter to the Romans is the lens through which to interpret James. Justification is by faith and not by works, in other words, and Paul’s clear words on the subject determined the interpretation of James’s less clear (that is, divergent) words. And although a strand within Protestantism—represented by the Anglican Bishop George Bull—argued vigorously that James’s clarity on the subject of justification should interpret Paul’s obscurity, both “faith alone” and the “analogy of faith” won the day, indeed, the centuries.

The result of this victory, however, has meant that subsequent interpreters have so meshed James’s theology into Paul’s that it is virtually impossible for a modern interpreter on James to not begin his or her comments on the letter without a reference to either Paul or Luther. Whether or not Bull is correct to interpret Paul through the lens of James, one wonders what would happen if interpreters presupposed that the “scope” of James 2:14-26 was true justification and then interpreted Romans or Galatians according to the “analogy of faith.” Whatever the case, the Puritans’ robust disagreement with Luther about his interpretation of James reveals how easy it is for even theologians of similar theological traditions to read the same Bible in opposing ways on account of their different systems of interpretation.

Dr. Derek Cooper is assistant professor of world Christian history and director of the Doctor of Ministry program at Biblical. He is the author of several books. For those interested in learning more about the Puritans in general or about how Martin Luther interpreted the book of James, check out Dr. Cooper’s book Thomas Manton: A Guided Tour of the Life and Thought of a Puritan Pastor. His faculty page can be found at http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/derek-cooper.




Written by Kyuboem Lee Wednesday, 23 October 2013 00:00

[The following is the Foreword I wrote for The Urbanity of the Bible: Rediscovering the Urban Nature of the Bible and What it Means for Today, by Sean Benesh, an upcoming publication from Wipf & Stock Publishers. Used by permission.]


The writer of Hebrews pictures God as the builder and architect of the city that he has prepared for his people (11:10, 16)—God is the Urban Planner par excellence. The corresponding portrait of New Jerusalem is the culmination of God’s redemptive and creative work—a place of beauty, human flourishing, and joyous community where men and women eternally live in righteousness, justice, and peace with each other, as well as in worship, love, and obedience under the rule of their God and King; a place where God dwells forever with his people finally redeemed from sin and death; the place where the hopes and dreams of all creation are realized at last. This city is “the joy of the whole earth” (Ps 48:2). Through his urban planning and building activities, God himself has prepared the habitation, garden, and tabernacle that he always had in mind for us his creatures. It awaits those who seek God’s country—they will one day arrive at their destination, and finally say, “We are home.”

As God’s image bearers, the children of Adam and Eve have been planning and building cities from the very beginnings of the biblical story. Because of human sin and the resulting fall from shalom, however, the cities that we have built experience and promulgate corruption, unbelief, injustice, and death. On the other hand, because of God’s good urban plan, the city also gives refuge, nurtures creativity, enhances human flourishing, grants a more abundant life, and glorifies the divine Urban Planner after whose image we engage in city-building.

But I am getting ahead of the action. In the following pages, author Sean Benesh will be your able guide to this ages-old, ongoing story of the city. He will narrate the urban story of the Bible. He will make a convincing case that today’s astounding urbanization around the globe is part of the outworking of God’s urban mandate for his image bearers. He will connect the everyday work of the citizens for the common urban good to God’s desire to create an urban society that is just and compassionate, a city that is a refuge to those who are strangers and aliens. He will argue that the missio dei finds its context squarely within the divine urban design.

His voice is a welcome one. Christians in North America have long failed to see the city as a good place. Many joined the flight out of dirty, crime-ridden, impoverished and impersonal gothams that they deemed irredeemable. Those who did choose to serve in cities thought of rescuing the city dwellers out of urban conditions. Missing was a biblical vision of God’s good design for the city.

Now, in the early twenty-first century, the tide has turned on the public perception of the city. For young gentrifiers and hipsters moving into lofts in post-industrial neighborhoods, the city has become a desirable locale to live in. Churches, seeking to court them, have also moved into formerly struggling inner-city communities. But, often out of the newcomers’ sight, former residents who were unable to join the former flight out of cities because of their socioeconomic standing are being displaced, making room for coffeeshops and quirky eateries. Globalization and its attendant migration patterns have also brought floods of new immigrants from every corner of the world into the cities—endowing the urban communities transnational identities. Zooming out, we also note that we have recently crossed a vital milestone; there is now more people living in the cities around the globe than there are people living in rural areas. We live in an urban world.

In the midst of these great urban transitions, we wonder whether God’s people have developed a robust urban theology that will sufficiently shape and invigorate their witness among the nations in the city. There is much to catch up on and learn about how the Lord is moving his mission forward in our global, urban world, and how his church is called to witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ in our new urban context. Sean Benesh will help us to do just that. As a minister of the gospel living, working, and learning in a rapidly transitioning community in Portland, Oregon, his is a unique vantage point to perceive the ongoing missio dei. My prayer is that the Lord who has prepared a city for his people will use this book to edify and direct their conversation and ministry in the cities around the world today and into the future, until the culmination of history when we will at long last reach the city that is the joy of the whole earth. May the urban communities of our day reflect more and more that city of joy, and may the church seek that city in our urban neighborhoods today with more and more of all that the Lord has given us, to God’s glory.

Dr. Kyuboem Lee serves as Adjunct Faculty at Biblical Seminary. He is the founding pastor of Germantown Hope Community Church in Philadelphia, and the General Editor for the Journal of Urban Mission.


Written by Dave Dunbar Monday, 21 October 2013 00:00

Dr. Dave Dunbar

OK, I admit it:  I have shamelessly borrowed most of the title of Robert Pirsig’s 1974 novel, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. As you may have heard from our new President, Dr. Frank James, I recently retired from the president’s office to the blessed, carefree life of a Biblical faculty member.  As part of my retirement, my wife allowed me to purchase a motorcycle and now I am driving on two wheels for the first time in over 45 years.  And yes, October was created with motorcyclists in mind.

Getting back into “biking” has made me freshly aware of the multi-cultural reality of contemporary America.  The motorcycle culture has its own distinct qualities of dress, values, life-style, etc.  And for the most part this cultural reality possesses little in common with Christian practice or world-view.

But as a Christian who is now coming into contact with aspects of the “biking” culture, I am thinking more about how my Christian life and my “riding life” might intersect.  Recently the local cycle shop had a special weekend devoted to store-wide sales, free seminars on cleaning and maintaining your bike, and just having an enjoyable gathering of the community (like church?).

A member of our church works at the shop, and he invited me to stop by on Sunday for their “chapel” service. It seems that members of a local chapter of a Christian motorcycle club regularly come to this event on Saturday and Sunday to give out tracts and have a Christian presence.  As part of their activities they have a chapel service at the dealership early Sunday morning.

I didn’t attend the festivities on Sunday morning (although I did drop by on Saturday).  However, my friend’s invitation got me thinking about this basic approach to evangelistic outreach which is fairly common among evangelical Christians.  It is the approach of creating parallel organizations and inviting non-Christians to join.  My observation is that usually the people who join are already Christians.  I don’t know if that is true of the Christian motorcyclists, but I suspect it might be.  And even if it is true, I still appreciate the effort that is being made to present the gospel in a cultural context where Jesus has little visibility apart from profane expressions.

Of course there are other possibilities for bringing Christian witness to the various subcultures around us. Rather than develop parallel Christian organizations we might consider a program of infiltration.  This has been illustrated for me by two friends who are pastors. Both of them are cyclists—that was part of the rationale I gave my wife when I got back into the sport—and both of them ride with secular biker clubs.  Both men have developed deep friendships within the cycling community, regularly pray for and with club members, have given counsel and even conducted funerals for some of the members. On the strength of these relationships one of the pastors hosts a “biker Sunday” at his church once a year that features an outdoor service, a barbeque, and afternoon bike tours—they get a couple hundred bikers to the event.

Now I am not suggesting that these two approaches are mutually exclusive . . . if you had time, you could do both. It seems to me, however, that evangelicals have tended primarily to employ the first approach which is “safer” but probably less effective if we want to bring the gospel to other cultures. The second is more challenging and even threatening, but in talking with my pastor friends, it sounds much more interesting!

Dave Dunbar served as President of Biblical for 27 years before transitioning to the role of Professor of Theology at Biblical on July 1, 2013. He has been married to Sharon for 44 years. They have four grown children and seven grandchildren.


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