Iniquity Truth

fixer-upper-home-porch-lawnThe house didn’t look too bad on the outside!   Sure, it had some problems, but over all, it didn’t look much worse than others we had looked at. However, as soon as we walked in the door, we discovered multiple problems. The old wood floor was full of cracks, splinters, and torn up boards. The source of heat was a wood stove that was so full of cracks and splits, it was a wonder it didn’t just crumple into a pile of rotten iron. The kitchen counters were made of plywood on 2×4’s nailed into the wall. The walls were full of holes and the bathrooms had the aroma of death in them. All this for just $1,200 a month!

If we are honest, this is what our lives are like though aren’t they? We try to keep up the outside so it doesn’t look too bad. But inside there are problems everywhere. For example, if we get angry with our spouse, it isn’t enough to just stop being angry and clean up that “outside act”. The truth is the problem isn’t just the outward display of anger, but the reason behind the anger! As we begin looking at that issue, we discover a heart that desperately wants what it wants. We find a heart that wants to not only be it’s own lord, but its own savior. Consider Psalm 130, “If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” The reality is we are far more sinful than we realize and if the Lord should lay before us every sin that resides in our heart, we could never stand before Him.  In fact, we would cry out and beg for Him to stop showing us every sin!

However, as we read on in Psalm 130, “But there is forgiveness with You.” Still later in Psalm 130, we read, “For with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is abundant redemption.” Note that there isn’t just forgiveness, but abundant redemption! Contemplate that for a moment: Abundant Redemption. How is there abundant redemption? It is because of an infinite Savior.  It is through Jesus taking our sins to the grave and then rising up again on the third day, cleansing us from our sins and destroying the power of death. This weekend, as we celebrate Easter and remember Christ’s work on the Cross, let us also remember that the result is abundant redemption!

Is Jesus Enough?

465146315_Man-on-mountain-topHow many times do you use the words “if only”?  I certainly couldn’t count how many times I have thought or said those words!  If only I could get that fixed or if only I could afford that or if only I could get some rest.  Yet, something I have been challenged with these last few weeks is the question:  “Is Jesus Enough?”

The question hasn’t been there because of great personal tragedy or excessive hardship.  Rather, the question has been there just as I go through the normal difficulties of life.  Is my hope in things going the way I want them to go or is my hope in Christ?  Is my hope in effectiveness in that which I set out to do or is my hope in Christ?  Can I be content in Christ when the things I wrongly look to for comfort fade away?

David wrote of this in Psalm 16 when he said, “O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot.  The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Yes, I have a good inheritance.”  Where was David’s hope here?  His hope was in the Lord and regardless of what life brought, David could say “The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Yes, I have a good inheritance.”

Paul shared a similar thought in Philippians 3, writing, “I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him.”

As God grows us in Him, He removes our hope in other things and grows us to hope and rest more in Christ.  Paul experienced this for he went on to write in Philippians 3:12, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.”  My prayer is that I will grow in this as well.  That I will grow to be able to say with more and more confidence:  “Yes!  Jesus is enough!”  That is my prayer for you as well!

Cause Me to Hear!

listen-2I once had a student who was the epitome of a spoiled child. Though his father loved him, this student constantly criticized his father. In his mind, his father could never do enough for him and he was always upset with his father because his father wouldn’t let him do whatever he wanted. As soon as this student could, he left his home for greener pastures, still adamantly believing his father could care less about him. It was a sad situation that was painful to watch. This young man just could not see his father’s love for him.

I wonder how often we are like this with God? How often do we fail to see God’s love because He doesn’t do what we want Him to do? How often do we determine God’s love for us by the absence of negative circumstances in our lives? How often do we completely miss the beauty and magnitude of God’s love for us because we are so focused on our circumstances and ourselves?

I am convinced that one of our deepest problems is a failure to understand God’s love for us and consequently see ourselves rightly in light of God’s love. Many of our personal battles have this issue at their root. We wouldn’t worry nearly as much if we better understood God’s love for us. We wouldn’t despair in trials the way we do if we better understood God’s love for us. We would better resist sin if we better understood God’s love for us!

In Psalm 143:8, David writes some profound words, “Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning, for in You do I trust; Cause me to know the way in which I should walk, for I lift up my soul to You.”

What an amazing thing to pray! “Oh Lord! Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness! Don’t let me walk through life missing the depth of your love for me! Don’t let me be so consumed with myself that I don’t even see your love! Help me to grasp your love! Reveal this more clearly to me, I beg of You!”

Do you truly trust God? Do you truly give yourself to Him? If so, then beg Him to cause you to more clearly see His love. Beg Him to more clearly see how you should live your life in light of His deep love for you.

You see, it is out of God’s love for us that He reveals His love for us and reveals to us how we are to live our lives. Therefore, regardless of your circumstances, beg God to show you more of His love and how you are to walk through the circumstances you are in, based upon His great love for you. The deeper your understanding of God’s love for you, the stronger your foundation will be to face whatever circumstances come your way! You will grow to see God as your Heavenly Father who has a limitless love for You and you will see yourself as one who is deeply and intimately loved by the Creator of all! “Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness!”

Growing through the Summer Months

6a00e551e78e9d883301538fb5a071970b-500wiIf one were asked, “What is the growing season in Montana?”, one would say the months of May, June, July, & August. It is during these months that the trees are leaved out, porches become colorful with flowers, and fenced plots grow full & tall with a variety of vegetables.

Unfortunately, what is happening in Creation during the summer months in Montana is often not what is happening in the souls of God’s people in Montana. Very often, the summer months are the months in which people grow the least and struggle the most. The resolutions from New Years have faded. The weather is nice. Hobbies are calling like never before! Sundays seem more like an extra play day than a Sabbath day to worship God.

Let me give this illustration. Currently, I have a beautiful apple tree in my yard that is vibrant in color as it is covered with white blossoms. It is beautiful! But, if I uproot that tree, put it on a flatbed truck and take it to Disneyland, Yellowstone, Mt. St. Helens, and Flathead Lake, it would slowly die. Sure, it would get to see a lot of great places, but because it is separated from it’s source of food and water, it would be slowly dying, despite “having so much fun”. The same is true for the Christian. If you uproot the Christian from the source of spiritual life, they will spiritually wither, regardless of how many exciting things they are doing. What is the source of spiritual life for the Christian? The Bible lists three things: The Triune God, His Word, and His people. Therefore, if one is going to grow, instead of wither through the summer months, the believer must remain grounded in these three areas.

Now, the big question is, “How do you do this so you can grow instead of wither?” What follows are five things to consider so you can spiritually grow this summer.

The first is to make realistic goals. For most, there is a drastic schedule change. You are likely going to be out longer and later. You are going to do some traveling. Kids are out of school so routine changes. Therefore, you need to have expectations that are grounded in reality. Otherwise, you will get discouraged & give up. That being said, you should make some goals. At the end of the summer, what do you want to have accomplished? What would you like to be able to look back on? Is there a specific area you would like to study? Don’t go into the summer without planning!

The second is to take advantage of new opportunities that summer brings! The days are longer, which if you plan well, can afford a wider variety of times to be with the Lord. You can walk and pray early in the morning, sit outside with a cup of coffee and your Bible, or read your Bible on your porch before going to bed. The summer months also provide new opportunities for the intentional family. Moms have times with their children they don’t have during the other months of the year. Don’t waste it! Moms, what can you do to help your children grow in the Lord this summer? Is there a book of the Bible you can read together before you do the morning dishes? Dads, consider all the new opportunities to lead your family in family devotions! There are typically less scheduled things for evenings, so take advantage of this! Also, don’t let being out and about hinder you from reading the Bible and praying with your children! Out for a hike in the woods? Take a break and read from the Bible and discuss it while you rest. As you go into the summer, think of things to do that will foster spiritual growth.

The third is to seek to grow in your biblical knowledge in a specific area this summer. One of the reasons Christians flounder so much during the summer is because they go into the summer hoping to be able to read their Bible, but they do not seek to learn something specific. If you have something specific in mind you want to learn over the summer, it will drastically improve your odds of growing. Here are some ideas: Study the book of John with the intent to learn more about Christ. Read and outline the Minor Prophets. Seek to understand the era of the Kings through reading I Samuel-II Chronicles. Determine to understand better who God is by reading Isaiah carefully and taking notes. Grow in wisdom principles by reading Proverbs & choosing 2-3 to write down each week for memorization. At the end of the summer months, you would have 24-36 Proverbs memorized.

The fourth is to live in relationships with others. Try to have a family over once a week or twice a month to build relationships. Go on a simple hike with someone & be determined to talk about more than the weather and summer plans. Seek to be involved in one another’s lives through service, especially with your children. Go on a camping trip with a family in church, maybe even a family you don’t know very well! Finally, don’t miss church! One of the reasons people struggle so much is they are so busy going here and there, they rarely make it to church. Many families miss church much more than they realize! Not only do we need to be in church for our spiritual health, we are commanded to (Hebrews 10:24-25). If you are on a vacation, still go to church! Don’t slip into a mentality that you need to take a vacation from God! As you think strategically about the summer, gauge carefully how much you miss church, just as you would gauge carefully about missing meals!

The final thing to consider to grow through the summer instead of withering is to be determined to grow. Establish biblical priorities and don’t back down from them. Think carefully about how you are arranging your days, especially your weekends. Continually ask the Lord to keep you growing and pursue the means of growth. Establish a routine and settle into it. Finally, have a friend or a spouse hold you accountable on a weekly basis to being in God’s Word.

The summer months are wonderful months in Montana! Let’s enjoy them! As we go into the summer and think about growing, let us remember Psalm 1: “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree, planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither. And whatever he does shall prosper.”

The Danger of Underestimating

RELEASED--MCCM Jerry McLain, CNRNW PAO LCPO, credit as a U.S. Navy Photo by MC2 (SW/AW) Jon RasmussenThe same story is in the news on a regular basis in Montana.  The only difference is the characters, the activity, and the time of year.  The story goes something like this.  Someone goes into the mountains hunting, fishing, hiking, or skiing and disappears.  Sometimes they are found alive, but much of the time they are not.  Some are never found again.  Of the ones that are found, the response is often the same.  “I didn’t realize the mountains could be so dangerous and things could go wrong so quickly.  I just wasn’t prepared for what happened.”  The majority of the time, the problem is completely underestimating the mountains and the wilderness and going into them unprepared, as if one was going for a walk in the city park.  The result can be tragic.

Unfortunately, this is often what we do with God.  We severely underestimate who He is and do not view Him as the Bible calls us to view Him.  The result can be tragic.  When we lose sight of who God is, we begin worshipping a god who is formed in our own minds.  Typically, we underestimate several things about God.

First we underestimate that He is a holy God.  In Isaiah 6, we read that majestic creatures surround the throne of God, crying out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts”.  When Isaiah has this vision of God, he cries out “Woe is me, for I am undone!  Because I am a man of unclean lips”.  When Isaiah sees how holy God really is, he is utterly terrified for he sees how unholy he is compared to God.  Hence he says “I am undone!”  The more we lose sight of the holiness of God, the more self-righteous and comfortable with sin we become.

Second, we underestimate that God is a majestic, mighty, all-powerful God who reigns in glory.  We read in Psalm 97, “His lightnings light the world; the earth sees and trembles.  The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.”  This is no mild mannered God who casually watches humanity while sipping on a sweet iced tea! He is glorious and mighty!  Perhaps one of the reasons we do not have much awe and zeal for God is because we do not see Him as the glorious, eternal King who reigns on high!

Third, we underestimate the judgement of God that flows from His perfect justice.  David writes in Psalm 7, “God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day.  If he does not turn back, He will sharpen His sword; He bends His bow and makes it ready.  He also prepares for Himself instruments of death; He makes His arrows into fiery shafts.”.  It is an absolute tragedy how averse we are to the justice of God.  It is in the justice of God that we find hope in the midst of evil.  The reason?  God is a God who will perfectly deal with evil and bring justice to the oppressed.  There will be a day in which God’s justice will be fully executed and evil will be no more.

Let’s not underestimate who God is!  To underestimate God can lead to great tragedy.  But, as we more clearly understand who He is, we more clearly see the beauty and wonder of the Gospel!  This holy, all-powerful, just God reaches down to sinners and rescues them for the purpose of restoring them to Himself so they can worship Him, rejoice in Him, and serve Him for all of eternity.  Redeemed sinners can live in peace and joy because of how great God truly is.  What a glorious God we serve!

El Salvador, Day 6

IMG_0512I am afraid I don’t have much to say tonight!  We all have to get up in a few hours and head to the airport for the flight home.  But, it was a great week and we were so blessed by the hospitality of everyone down here.

Today was mostly a day of rest.  We got up early and left for the beach at 6:30.  We spent the morning on the beach.  Some of us rested in hammocks (that would be me!) and others played in the surf.  Needless to say, it was quite a sight to see a bunch of snow white gringos running around in the surf!

Tonight, the Discipleship Conference came to a close.  It went well and it was a wonderful last night together.  I taught on the necessity to not sit and watch ministry, but to get involved in ministry and be a part of ministry.  Acey then shared his testimony of growth.  After the conference, we had one more dinner together at a pizza place with the Blackstocks and Pastor Mario and his family.

We are grateful for the time to get to know our brothers and sisters in Christ down here and get to spend time with them for the last four nights of the conference.  The trip was well worth it.  Well, I really can no longer think for I am very tired!  Enjoy a few pictures from the day!

IMG_0511Guess Who?

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IMG_1141  From the sea……

IMG_1142  To the table….

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El Salvador, Day 5

IMG_1113You always wonder how the day is going to go when it begins in a doctor’s office.  This is how this day began.  We arrived there at 8:30 for Acey’s appointment for his aching tooth.  While we waited in the waiting area, the dentist examined Acey and determined he needed several fillings, a root canal, and a crown.  He sent him out to go get some breakfast and then come back.  Pastor Mario decided that we needed to go to Pizza Hut.  All of us assumed it would be breakfast pizzas.  However, when we walked in, it was like walking into IHOP: A full breakfast experience complete with all you can drink coffee!

With the Pizza Hut breakfast complete, we took Acey back to the dentist where he then stayed until 4:00.  Really, it is difficult to top 6 hours in a dentist chair!  In fact, Acey asked to stay until 5, but they had other patients.  Currently, Acey’s jaw is still hanging open, leaving his mouth available for spelunking flies.  Other than being a little awkward while eating, the situation is doable with his new bib to catch the dribbling food.  Thankfully, it is likely his jaw should close once again by Friday.  In all seriousness, we are thankful to the Lord, for the time in the dentist went well and Acey was able to get everything taken care of at a fraction of the cost in the US.  It certainly beat option two, which involved an ice skate and a Wilson volleyball!

While Acey sat in the dentist, the rest of us lounged at the pool and drank bottomless lemonade. (Just kidding).  Once Acey was situated at the dentist, the rest of us went over to a house that is home to a dozen or so college age students from the US who are here on a 9 month mission trip.  We spent some time with them and then I taught from James 3:13-18.  It was a great time and it was the first time teaching without a translator since we got here!  What a blessing to meet with young people who are here serving the Lord for an extensive period of time.

Today we decided to do something fun, exciting, adventurous, and daring.  We sat at the Blackstock home while Ryan got on the internet and we all gave him our orders for………McDonalds.  And then we waited.  15 minutes later, the doorbell rang and lo and behold there was…………McDonalds!  Once that moving experience was over, Blaine once again twisted our arm and got us to go over to Vive Espresso for some afternoon coffee.  After another “Divine Coffee” (in the words of Ben) we got to work on the different teachings we had to revise and work on.

Day 3 of the Discipleship Conference began with Champ teaching on the importance of being involved in the local church.  Not in the sense of just having something to do, but having yourself truly invested in the people there.  He did a great job and gave all of us a lot of good things to think about.  Ben then followed that up with his testimony of growth which was very encouraging to hear. Once again, it was a rich blessing to spend time with everyone and our times in discussion were a blessing.

It is hard to believe that tomorrow is already our last day here.  We will spend most of tomorrow at the beach as it is the one day where nothing is going on during the day.  We also want to do some research on the amount of time it takes for winter Montana Gringos to turn a bright crimson red.  Right now, the hypothesis is 13.5 minutes.

Tomorrow night will be the final night of the Discipleship Conference.  I will be teaching, followed by Acey sharing his story of God’s work in his life.  I am greatly looking forward to it!

IMG_1107  Waiting for Acey at the Dentist

IMG_1109 IMG_1111 A little Hut breakfast!

IMG_1114 Teaching at the house with college students

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El Salvador, Day 4

IMG_1074Day 4 is in the books!  Almost.  20 more minutes and it will be tomorrow!  Today was another great day with many memories.  We left the house today at 8 and drove out to pick up Ben & Acey.  Unfortunately, Acey got a bad tooth ache was not doing real well when we got him.  Thankfully, he wasn’t to the point of knocking back pints of whiskey to ward off the pain, but it was clear the tooth was bothering him.  As we drove into town, we discussed the situation.  We arrived at the Blackstocks and talked with them and decided it would be good for Acey to go to the dentist.  So, he has an appointment tomorrow morning at 8:30.  The dental care down here is very good.

We went to the Blackstocks for a meeting with a few pastors that get together there with Ryan on Tuesdays.  We had a great time discussing discipleship in the church and how to help people grow in the Lord.  Once again, I was struck with how, despite our different cultures, many of our core issues are the same.  After an enriching and encouraging 3 hour meeting (how often can you say that about a meeting!), we went to a very good hamburger place for lunch.  So far, we have had burgers at two different places and in both places the burgers were better than most we can get in the US.  (I thought we invented the burger??????)  These burgers were so large that only one of us in our group ate the whole thing (I’ll leave you to guess which gringo that was!)  The only difference between one of these burgers and a meatloaf was the bun!

After lunch, we spread out to various areas.  Blaine talked Champ, Ben, and I into going for lattes, so we went over to one of the best espresso places in the world (not an exaggeration!)  Ben and I stayed there for the rest of the afternoon and prepared for our times of teaching.

We left for church and the 2nd night of the discipleship conference at 5:30.  It was another great night.  Such a blessing to spend time with brothers and sisters in Christ here.  There were about 40 people at the conference tonight.  Blaine and Ben taught and did an outstanding job.  I was proud of both of them.  Champ shared some of his testimony as well in regards to his growth in the Lord and did a good job also.  Tomorrow night Champ will be teaching.

Once the conference was over, we left the church and went to go get dinner at 9:30 (A nightly dinner time for us here).  Ben and I were blessed to go to Dominos with Pastor Mario, his wife, and some people from their church.  It was a good time with many underlying sub-stories that are not appropriate to share in this context.  You can ask Ben later on!  Here, Dominos is a sit down restaurant, very similar to Pizza Hut.  Well, the hour is nearly midnight and this boy needs to go to sleep!  There are some pictures below.  Hope they help capture the day.  If you want to see them enlarged, all you should have to do is click on one!  Until tomorrow night…..

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El Salvador, Day 3

IMG_0474The air was cool and the sun had just risen when we got in the car at 7:15 and began the 30 minute drive to San Salvador from our home.  Suddenly, brake lights were in front of us and traffic came to a stop.  Thus began a stop and go drive with Salvadorian drivers turning a two lane highway into a three lane highway.  The skill with which people drive here is amazing and thankfully those who drive us around here are very skilled as well!  The traffic was so heavy today because today was the first day of the school year for the El Salvador public schools.  One advantage to driving that slow was it allowed us to really take in the scenery and the sights.  San Salvador sits at the base of a volcano and the fog was gently moving across the top of it this morning producing a beautiful backdrop.

Once we arrived in San Salvador, we gathered together at the Blackstock home for some cultural training and learn how to better approach mission’s trip to foreign countries.  It was very good and we had some great discussion.  I was thankful for the time together.  I was also thankful for the discussion because it created a distraction from a certain couple of “Gringos” who were already at the Blackstock home and were quite disturbed by our late arrival because they felt they could have slept longer.  A quandary, to which the three of us who drove through the traffic, felt no sympathy.

We finished up the training at noon and then went to an Argentina restaurant for a quick lunch.  Then Ben and I went with Ryan over to a house in which 10 American college students live.  They are on a 9 month mission trip to serve here in El Salvador.  Ryan teaches a Bible study there and Ben and I went along to spend some time with them.  It was a great time and fun to hang out with them and hear what God was doing in their lives.  During this time, the previously discussed “Gringos” enjoyed a lot of coffee and solved many world problems, such as which caliber produced the most desired results on prairie dogs at 400 yards.

We had a short time before leaving for church and most of us took advantage of it and prepared for different teachings we were doing.  However, we had a great interruption when the bread man came by and honked his bike horn.  Quite frankly, I have never seen Blaine move that fast and probably never will unless there is a 500lb furry beast growling behind him.  Notice in the picture he did not even take the time to put on shoes!  Thankfully, the Blackstocks had a mop to wipe up the trail of drool that went out the door.

The first night of the Discipleship Conference at the church went well.  Acey did a great job teaching on the necessity for the Word of God to be the foundation for discipleship.  Blaine also did a great job sharing his testimony of growth and what things the Lord has used in His life to mold him and shape into the image of Christ.  I was thankful for both of them and what they shared.  After the times of speaking, we spent 40 minutes in small groups discussing the information.  It was great to hear what was on the hearts of the people here.

Once the Discipleship Conference was over, it was 8:30 and time for dinner.  Everyone went to their homes, except our host family and Acey’s host family, along with a few people from the church.  They took us to a little open street restaurant for some very authentic pupusas.  They were quite good, but what was even better was some great fellowship and great times of laughing with our brothers and sisters in Christ down here.  It was a full day, but a really good day.  Looking forward to what tomorrow will bring!

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El Salvador, Day 2

IMG_0462It is hard to believe another day has come and gone!  Yet, here we are at the close of another day.  The day definitely began with some grogginess!  However, we did wake up and arrived at church this morning at about 9:15.  We had a wonderful time worshipping our Lord and Savior with brothers and sisters from La Iglesia here in San Salvador.  It is a church very similar in size to The Journey.  One major difference is they know how to play their ten stringed instruments and play them with great gusto!  Ben helped lead us in song from a spare electric guitar they had.

I was humbled and blessed to be able to preach from Luke 9:57-62.  It was a joy to be able to share and once again I was impacted with the fact that though we speak different languages and live in different cultures, we love and serve the same God and are equally saved by His Son, Jesus Christ.  I also was reminded of the difficulty of language barriers that God brought as a result of sin (Genesis 11) and I look forward to when those barriers are removed and we can speak freely with one another.  This is something we don’t often think about but it will be yet another rich blessing to experience when Christ returns.

After church we went to a great restaurant and several of us discovered our limit with food consumption and a few of us managed to push past it.  La Burro with pastor especial (Doesn’t mean the pastor of a church….thankfully) is quite good.  It is a burrito that is covered with cheese and then grilled.  There were many….many TVs in the place and all of them had the same soccer game on.  However, near the end of our meal, the TV that faced our table got turned to the NFC Championship pre-game show.  Perhaps they noticed all the gringos at the table and thought if the TV turned to American football, we would stay longer and order a round of beers!

Waddling out to the car was a chore, but one we all managed with the exception of one.  He had to be carried but to protect his identity, I will not disclose his name.  We then spent the rest of the afternoon and evening at the Blackstock home and enjoyed watching football, eating pupusas, and laughing together.  It was a great time.  However, many of us admitted, after some contemplation, we definitely ate one to many pupusas.

Well, that is all for tonight!  Tomorrow the Discipleship Conference begins at the church and Acey will be the opening speaker for that.  Please be in prayer that the conference goes well and the Lord would use us as He chooses!
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