Salvation by Grace through Faith? Look at the Overwhelming Evidence!

April 18, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Posted in False teaching, Grace and Faith, Questions for Pastor Glenn, Security and Assurance, Theology | 8 Comments

Do we really believe that God offers salvation freely by his grace, and that our part is simply to trust in his provision?  I am so often hit with questions about this matter that I thought I would post many or these references together.  There are those who teach that we must practice certain things or go through certain rituals to be saved.  But what does the Bible say?  Look at the overwhelming evidence in this matter.  Notice that there are not just a few verses pulled out of context but some long passages and references from four of the major authors of the New Testament.

From Luke:

Acts 2:21;  Acts 4:4;  Acts 10:43;  Acts 13:38-39;  Acts 14:1, 27;  Acts 15:6-11;  Acts 16:29-31;  Acts 18:27;  Acts 20:21;  Acts 26:12-18.

From Paul:

Romans 1:16-17;  Romans 3:21-26, 27-30;  Romans 4:1-25;  Romans 5:1-11;  Romans 10:9-13;  Galatians 2:15-21;  Galatians 3:1-15;  Galatians 5:2-6;  Ephesians 1:13-14;  Ephesians 2:8-10;  2 Timothy 3:14-15;  Titus 3:3-7.

From John:

John 1:10-13;  John 3:14-17, 18, 36;  John 5:24;  John 6:28-29, 35, 40, 47;  John 7:37-39;  John 8:24;  John 11:25-26;  John 12:44-46;  John 20:30-31;  1 John 5:11-13.

From Peter:

1 Peter 1:3-5, 18-21;  1 Peter 2:6-10.

Maybe you never realized the Bible was so overwhelmingly clear.  Maybe you’ve run across this post because you’re under the teaching of someone who wants you to sign on his program or get baptized by his church because, he tells you, it’s the only way you can be saved, and he’s quoted to you a few obscure verses twisted to his purposes.  Maybe you think you’re saved because you were baptized or you’ve done many good works or you walked down a church aisle one day.  Maybe you’re trusting in yourself and what you can do.  The Bible is unmistakably clear on this matter:  Salvation is a gift of God’s grace through our trust in Jesus.  All that must be paid for our salvation has been paid by Jesus.  When you trust in him you are eternally saved from your sin.  Put your trust in Jesus today.

“Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned.  He has crossed over from death to life.”  –Jesus

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False Teaching in the News

March 1, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Posted in False teaching | 2 Comments

In the past two days I have seen several examples of false teaching making the secular news.

The first incident is the story of John Dominic Crossan on CNN, cofounder of the Jesus Seminar, The Jesus Seminar is group of liberal scholars who tried to bring scholarly biblical debate to the forefront of popular thinking.  That in it self is not a bad goal, but the founders seemed to have an a priori mindset against the miraculous.  The seminar tried to find the historical Jesus, but began with an assumption that the miracles and resurrection didn’t happen.  Of course from a pure history perspective, the oldest manuscripts that witness to Jesus say that they did happen.

Of Crossan, the article says:  “His days as a priest would end, though, because of the same forces that shaped the rest of his career:  the clash between church dogma and scholarly truth.”  Do you see the subtle implication that church dogma can’t be true if scholarly opinion says it is not?  Such an implication is not only false, it ignores the many scholars who would disagree.  However, Crossan’s a priori assumptions against the supernatural, and apparently CNN’s also, discredit such scholars before the debate even begins.

To their credit, CNN does quote one evangelical scholar to the contrary:  “Ben Witherington, a New Testament scholar who has written several books about the early Christian community, says Crossan’s work allows people to sidestep questions like:  Did he come to save the world?  Is he the son of God?  ‘It’s a user-friendly Jesus that doesn’t make demands on someone,’ he says.   Witherington says Crossan is trying to find a nonsupernatural way to explain Jesus and Scripture, and ‘the shoe doesn’t fit.’”

The second example of false teaching in the news is popular author and speaker Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan (not to be confused or associated with Mars Hill Church in Seattle whose pastor Mark Driscoll disagrees with Bell).  Bell is soon to release a book called  Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.  Though Bell has been mum about the real contents of the book, the questions he raises in his video indicate he believes in an unbiblical universalism.  Numerous popular pastors with more orthodox leanings have been very critical of the video in the past few days.  See for instance Justin Taylor’s article here. Taylor embeds the video in his article and links some other criticisms as well.  Thanks to Dr. Pegler for the heads up on this matter.

Finally the last one I saw today tells of the popular Glenn Beck meeting with Billy Graham. Beck, the article says, is “positioning himself as a new leader for Christian conservatives.”  CNN quotes Beck’s blog post from last Tuesday, “My message to you,” Beck continued, “is we must come together.  Evil has – the left has stood – is standing now with profound and clear evil and they’ve connected from evil all the way to the average Democrat and everything in between.”  The implication here is that political liberalism and liberals are the enemy, and Beck is on the good side.

However, Beck is a Mormon who doesn’t believe the Gospel of Jesus.  Though I may have vast political agreement with Beck, and though I may admire what he is doing on the political front, and though I may find liberalism distasteful and even evil in some expressions, liberalism is not the enemy.  To the extent that evangelicals believe that part of Beck’s dogma, they are following a false doctrine that can only lead away from the true Gospel.  Political conservatism, no matter how much we evangelicals agree with it, is not the Gospel of Jesus, and Glenn Beck, though he may be a worthy conservative political leader and deserve our following on that front, should not be allowed to position himself as a leader of Christians.

We Will Sacrifice to the Queen of Heaven

September 27, 2010 at 4:50 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, False teaching | Leave a comment

Jeremiah 44.  This old passage sounds much like today, people listening to what their itching ears want to hear.  Jeremiah had predicted that King Jehoiachin would be carried off as a captive; he had predicted that Babylon would surround the city of Jerusalem; he had predicted that King Zedekiah would be captured; he had predicted that the city would be destroyed.  Everything he predicted came true, yet many refused to believe him.  After the destruction of Jerusalem, some of the remaining people thought it might be wise to take refuge in Egypt.  They came and asked Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord about the matter.  They promised to do whatever Jeremiah said was God’s word for them.  “Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, we will listen to the voice of the Lord our God.” (42:1-6) After praying for ten days, Jeremiah returned to them with God’s answer:  Stay in this land and God will bless you here (42:10-12); don’t go to Egypt or you will die there (42:13-22).  The people refused to believe God’s word through Jeremiah.  They went to Egypt anyway and took Jeremiah and Baruch with them as captives (43:1-7), then they sacrificed to the gods of the Egyptians (44:7-10).  So God again spoke through Jeremiah, telling of the coming destruction of Egypt by Babylon (43:8-13) and of the destruction of those who took refuge there (44:1-14).

          The response of the men to this prophecy is interesting.  “We will not listen to you; instead we will sacrifice to the queen of heaven.”  The reason is that when they sacrificed to the Egyptian goddess, so they thought, they had plenty, but “since we stopped,” they added, “we have lacked everything and have met our end by the sword and famine.” (44:16-19).  Isn’t that just like people today?  With a total disregard for truth, they follow whatever seems to make them prosper.

Every Man Has His Own God

August 20, 2010 at 8:43 am | Posted in False teaching, Theology | Leave a comment

Here is a profound thought I read this morning:

Every individual mind being a kind of labyrinth, it is no wonder, not only that each nation has adopted a variety of fictions, but that almost every man has had his own god.  To the darkness of ignorance have been added presumption and wantonness, and hence there is scarcely an individual to be found without some idol or phantom as a substitute for Deity.  Like water gushing forth from a large and copious spring, immense crowds of gods have issued from the human mind, every man giving himself full license, and devising some peculiar form of divinity, to meet his own views.

                        –John Calvin, Institutes (1, 5, 12)

It was written almost 500 years ago and describes the world of that day, but it is so relevant today.   The false teachers of our day fall into what this describes as “devising a deity to meet their own views,” and all of us, as he says, have our own gods.  Let’s return to the God revealed in the Bible rather than one of our own making.

A Partial Gospel Is No Gospel at All!

July 30, 2010 at 10:36 am | Posted in False teaching, Grace and Faith, Questions for Pastor Glenn, Security and Assurance, Theology | 3 Comments

Dear Pastor Glenn

My friends are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I have had several theological discussions with them and knew they believed some weird things.   But recently he made a comment that really took me by surprise.  Apparently they believe that when you die, you will be born again (literally) and live another life and will keep doing that until you get it right.   Not quite like the re-incarnation of the eastern religions where you can come back as a cow or something – you always come back as another person, but re-incarnation nevertheless.  I didn’t realize Jehovah’s Witnesses believed that, did you?  Is that a main-line Jehovah’s witness belief, or a radical one that only some of them believe?

In one of my conversations, we got on the subject of true Christianity, and I made the statement that I thought the fundamental things you HAD to believe to be considered a Christian were 1) That Jesus Christ was not just a prophet or a man, but the Son of God, the second person of the trinity, 2) that He died on the cross for our sins, 3) that He rose from the dead, and 4) that belief in Him and acceptance of Him as Lord and Savior is the only way to salvation.   Both heartily agreed with that statement, so what’s your take on this?

Dear ________,

I found your inquiry interesting, as I too have never heard of JWs who believe in reincarnation.  After a short check, I could find no official belief in reincarnation among JWs, but my best resources for that have long since been given away.  However, that doesn’t exclude the possibility that some who call themselves JWs believe that way.  Like many who call themselves Christian, yet their theology comes from multiple sources – many of which are not Christian in any sense, so also there are certainly JWs who have a strange blend of JW and other philosophies all mixed together.

However, I would like to address the other question more directly as it has significance on how we understand the true Gospel.  I thought your four statements were great, but you didn’t define terms, and that makes all the difference.  JWs as I know them, would say they totally agree with statements 2, 3, and 4.  However, they would not understand those statements as you intended them to be understood.  For instance, “Did Jesus die on the cross for your sins?”  A JW would respond, “Yes, he did,” but when pushed would have to say, “He died so that my sins would be forgiven, which brings me back to even ground with God; now it’s up to me to get the rest of the way on my own.”  In other words, in their view, Jesus’ death didn’t purchase my salvation, thus guaranteeing my forgiveness; rather his death made my salvation a possibility which I must complete by my good works.  They say yes to the question, but there is a huge difference in meaning.

To your third statement, they would again say, “I believe Jesus died and rose again from the dead.”  Here they would be in agreement as to what that means, but they miss the implication of it.  Jesus’ resurrection gives them the possibility of resurrection; it doesn’t guarantee a resurrection for those who believe.

As to your statement 4, “Is belief in Jesus and acceptance of him as Lord and Savior the only way to salvation?”  Yes, they would say, Jesus is the only way to salvation; however, a complete honest answer would add that he is not the entire way to salvation.  Only through Jesus can we get to the place where we have the opportunity for salvation; taking that opportunity is up to us.

The first statement is a little trickier, and your friends affirmative answer may be some of that blended theology and may be based on what she understands “trinity” to mean.  I was tickled that you didn’t capitalize the word, since they don’t believe in the Trinity as we understand the Bible to teach it.  JWs believe that Jesus is the first created being, who was given power and authority by the Father and who in turn created everything else, but a created being nonetheless.  This is a matter beyond what I have time for now.

Of, course all this misses the point of the Gospel, and is not “gospel” at all.  When I ask my well-studied JW friend at the Rec Center questions about Jesus’ character and divinity, he has, at least in his mind, an answer for the biblical passages that seem so clear to us; but when I ask him about his assurance of forgiveness, he has no answer at all.  There is no assurance in their beliefs because their salvation is not based solely on Jesus’ character and work, but on their own works, which they know to be sinful.  The true Gospel says that Jesus did it all for us.

They could never sing as we do  .  .  .   “In Christ alone who took on flesh, fullness of God in helpless Babe.  This gift of love and righteousness scorned by the ones He came to save.  ‘Til on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.  For every sin on Him was laid.  Here in the death of Christ I live.”

Perfected for All Time

June 2, 2010 at 10:46 am | Posted in False teaching, Security and Assurance, Theology | Leave a comment

          Once again it is imperative to check the tenses in the New Testament when God tells us what is true about us and what has been or will be accomplished for us.  Ignoring those tenses leads to a false theology and a lack of genuine security.  Last week I was reading Hebrews and was struck by these phrases:  “Through his own blood he entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” (9:12)  And “by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (10:14)  Notice that Jesus has already obtained eternal redemption, and if it is eternal, nothing can change or destroy it.  Notice that Jesus as already perfected those who are sanctified, and if perfected by him, nothing can pollute them.  These verses are similar to others that tell us we have eternal life now; that we are justified now; that we have been redeemed already.

          The last time I talked to my Jehovah Witness friend, he told me that sin includes even bad attitudes we have, and that we all sin almost every day.  He told me that Jesus death and resurrection is their biggest celebration because it gives them the opportunity to be forgiven.  Jesus died so we can live up his expectations and receive forgiveness.  So I asked him if Jesus has forgiven the sin he will commit tomorrow.  He said he hoped he wouldn’t sin tomorrow, so I pressed the question with, “You will sin, by your own definition, if not tomorrow, then certainly the next day.  Has Jesus forgiven that sin?”  He had no answer.  If he’d said yes, then I would have asked why he has to live up to Jesus’ expectations to be forgiven, and if he’d said no, I would have asked how Jesus could forgive any of his sins, since they were all future when Jesus died.  The biblical truth is that Jesus obtained eternal salvation when he died.  My friend has no security; but the biblical truth tells me that those who trust Jesus are eternally secure.

          I haven’t seen my friend since that day, but I’ve often prayed that my question will make him uneasy with his understanding, so he will see the biblical truth.  Jesus paid it all!

Prosperity, Sovereignty and Job, part 2

May 25, 2010 at 11:40 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, False teaching, Theology | Leave a comment

            Not only do Job’s first three friends represent the prosperity gospel of our day, but so does the fourth.  This younger mystery character called Elihu comes into the scene after Job’s three friends fail to answer him.  He speaks for six chapters (32-37) claiming to add to the conversation what the others failed to say.  He claims to speak wisdom (33:31-33); he even claims to speak for God (36:2).  Trouble is I fail to see anything new that he adds; he simply restates the argument the others have been making with different words.

            Elihu seems to believe in the sovereignty of God, making statements like “God thunders with His voice wondrously, doing great things we cannot comprehend,” and “The Almighty – we cannot find him; He is exalted in power,” and “He breaks in pieces mighty men without inquiry.” (37:5, 23; 34:24)  However, he fails to see how that overrules his own ideas about God.  He puts God in a box that sovereignty doesn’t allow.  “Far be it from God to do wickedness and from the Almighty to do wrong.  He pays a man according to his work.  . . .  Surely, God will not act wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice.” (34:10-12)  All that sounds like good theology, and at face value it is, but reading on, and putting his words in their literary context, gives me the impression that right or wrong, good or wicked, is not absolute right and wrong according to God, but right or wrong according to Elihu.  In fact the real meaning of that comes out when he adds, “If they (i.e. the righteous) hear and serve Him, they will end their days in prosperity and their years in pleasures.” (36:11)  In this context, Elihu means that Job hasn’t served God, and that’s why he lost everything, but if he serves God from this point on, all his wealth will return to him.  That sounds exactly like the proponents of the prosperity gospel.  God’s word does promise success to those who hear and serve him, but they give success their own definition, which looks exactly like Madison Avenue’s definition, rather than God’s.  God’s definition of success is not more things and more money, but more knowledge of him and his will.  The matter of financial prosperity is subject to his sovereign choice.

            God notes that all the players in this production missed the point of his sovereignty.  He asks, “Who is this that darkens my counsel by words without knowledge?”  and follows up that question with four chapters of questions designed to teach his sovereignty to Job and his friends.  Job’s confession is a far better perspective than Elihu’s.  “I know you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (42:2)

Prosperity, Sovereignty and Job

May 20, 2010 at 8:54 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, False teaching, Theology | 1 Comment

          I have been reading Job in my devotions this week.  In the past I have always looked at the book from a perspective of pain and suffering, but this time through I decided to look at the entire book from the perspective of God’s sovereignty.  It makes a lot of sense.  After an introduction, the book gives us an immediate view of God’s sovereignty.  Satan must get permission from God to do anything to Job; God is the one who provokes Satan to test Job.  God is still in control, no matter what Job may see or feel.  When Job’s “friends” come to him, it is God’s sovereignty that they deny.  In doing so, they sound very much like the prosperity preachers of our day.  They see God, not in sovereign control, but as a vending machine that will dispense whatever they need or want if they put in the right things and push the right buttons.

          Listen to their words.  Eliphaz begins, “Who ever perished being innocent?” (4:7)  The implication is that Job is not innocent because of the things that came upon him.  If he would straighten up, God would bless.  In the second discourse, Eliphaz would add these words, “The wicked writhes in pain all his days, and numbered are the years stored up for him.  . . .  He will not become rich, nor will his wealth endure.” (15:20-29)  Of course the experience of life is that the innocent often die and the evil often prosper.  But Eliphaz claims special knowledge because he had a vision of a spirit. (vv12-16).  Doesn’t all that sound familiar?  Bildad is more direct: “If you would seek God and implore the compassion of the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, surely now he would rouse Himself for you and restore your righteous estate.” (8:5-6)  That’s the prosperity gospel pure and simple.  Zophar puts it this way: “If you would direct your heart right and spread out your hands to Him,  . . .  then, indeed, you would be steadfast and not fear, for you would forget your troubles as waters that have passed by, you would remember it.” (11:13-16)

          These men have made God into a blessing machine; if you just do certain things then He will bless.  That totally ignores the sovereignty of God and puts us in control.   They make God, as Calvin once said, “To be whatever their own rashness has devised, . . . fashioned after their own childish conceits.”  But in the end, Job’s friends did not speak what is right about God (42:7-8).  God is God and we are not.  Innocent suffer and evil people prosper.  But it all has purpose.  God knows the bigger picture that we cannot see, and in the ultimate end of time, He may reveal that to us.  The beauty of the book of Job is that we get to see the bigger picture in the beginning scenes, so we can trust his sovereignty throughout the story.  O that we may trust that sovereignty when troubles come to our lives, even if we don’t see the entire story.  Job, who didn’t fully understand what was going on, still expressed it well when he said, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” (13:15)  Put your hope in the God who is sovereign, not in one fashioned from childish conceit.

He Is Risen Indeed!

April 5, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Posted in False teaching, Questions for Pastor Glenn | 1 Comment

One Easter a young man in our conregation sent me the following note:

Dear Pastor Glenn,

            I read this article on MSN this morning.  Does it have any merit?  I know you studied the early church, so I was hoping to get your insight.  There are so many articles and opinions just flying around about Christ these days, most I’ve found are unsubstantiated, but it’s important for me to understand and try to decipher what’s true and what is not.

            http://www.slate.com/id/2249526/?GT1=38001

Thanks __________

Dear ________

            Thanks for your inquiry.  I appreciate your desire to discern the truth in these matters.  I will try to address the problems in this article as briefly as possible.  It might be best to look at a few major issues rather than the details of every point the author makes.

            The author begins by stating that “Christians in the first few centuries also had difficulty embracing the idea of a real, bodily resurrection.”  The first question you need to ask is what is his definition of a “Christian?”  If a Christian is anyone who claims to follow someone from the early First Century named Jesus, then everything he says in this article is true.  However, if a Christian is what the New Testament calls a disciple of Jesus, then there is much that isn’t true.  As an example, for some “Christians,” according to the article, “Jesus’ earthly body and his death were seen as illusory, the divine Christ merely appearing to have a normal body.”  But this is precisely what the New Testament claims is not a disciple of Jesus.  Read 1 John 4:1-6.  John wrote his letter against a Gnostic form of Christianity, saying it isn’t Christian at all.  Yet the article refers to these Gnostics as Christians (second page, second paragraph.  By the way, his point in this paragraph that those who believed in a bodily resurrection of Jesus were more willing to face martyrdom rather than acquiesce to the Romans is totally valid.  I just intend to show that he considers for his purposes that the Gnostics were valid Christians.)  Paul addresses a similar disbelief in 1 Corinthians 15:12-34.  Many of the NT letters were written to address misunderstandings of who Jesus really was or what he came to do.

            As one other example, the author states correctly that Judaism in Jesus’ day was divided over the question of resurrection.  As he says, the Sadducees were famous for their denial of any form of resurrection.  However, his inference that this division in Judaism carried over to the early Christians is mistaken.  In fact, it was the very idea of Jesus’ bodily resurrection that distinguished the genuine Christians.  I would point out how often the early church referred to the resurrection in their messages, particularly to Jews.  (In fact, every time they addressed the Jews they made reference to it – see Peter’s words in Acts 2:22-32; 3:15; 4:9-10; 5:29-32; and notice Paul’s trials in Acts 23:1-6; 25:17-21; 26:8)  It’s no wonder the Jewish authorities “were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” (Acts 4:2)

            Finally, I must point out that the real issue here, and, concerning all those theories about Christ, is one’s authority.  Or, stated more directly:  Are the NT documents reliable?  If they are, then there is no doubt about the bodily resurrection.  Those documents, without question, affirm Jesus’ death on the cross and his physically coming out of the tomb.  However, this matter is beyond the scope of this letter, and if that is a concern, it must be dealt with at another time.

            The article you referenced is introduced with these words “Easter Sunday represents the foundational claim of Christian faith.”  To that I say “Amen,”  and would add that without such a foundation, there is no Christian faith at all.  As Paul has said, “If the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.  But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!”  (1 Corinthians 15:16-20)  He is risen indeed!

Following Jesus with Selfish Motives

March 1, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, False teaching | 1 Comment

            Many people are Jesus’ followers because of what they might get out of it.  I complain about the “prosperity preachers,” and the false gospel they teach, but it is no wonder they can have such huge followings: simply put, people like the prosperity gospel; it is what itching ears want to hear.  Of course, there have been people hanging around Jesus with self-centered motives since the very beginning.  These two chapters (John 6-7) cite three examples:  First, Jesus’ brothers, the sons of Joseph and Mary who grew up with Jesus, did not believe in him, so they challenged him to be more public about what they’d heard he could do.  “Jesus’ brothers said to him, ‘You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do.  No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret.  Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.’”  (7:3-4)  Their words could be understood to say, “Why don’t you do one of those reported miracles for us to see?”  The reason they said this is given in the next verse: “Even his own brothers did not believe in him.”  Second, some of those whom Jesus fed with the loaves and fish wanted to make him king by force, they were following him only “because they ate the loaves and had their fill.” (6:26)  In other words, they wanted another free meal.  Jesus told them to work for another kind of meal, the kind that “endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (6:27)  It’s not about what’s in it for you, Jesus would tell them, it’s about who I am.  Finally, in the end of chapter 7, the Pharisees, who couldn’t deny what Jesus had done, were threatened by him; they were self-centeredly thinking they could lose their special positions of authority or prestige.  Jesus said to them, “I did one miracle and you’re all astonished” (v.21), yet they had to argue over whether the timing of that miracle was proper!  They wanted to assert that, in spite of the fact they couldn’t do the things Jesus did, they were still in charge.  They sent the temple guards to arrest him (32), and they reminded people of their authority and wisdom (48) – all reactions to Jesus possibly having a better following than they had.  All self-centered things.

            The people in all three of these examples didn’t want to hear the real cost of following Jesus or know who he really was.  They couldn’t give up their self-centered motives, and the truth conflicted with those motives.  May I always teach a Christianity that is Christ-centered and God-exalting, not one that is me-centered and self-exalting!

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