Romans 11

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A heavenly gardener once planted a tree and called it Israel. The seed of the tree was a man named Abraham, and through him came the roots. The roots gave way to a trunk and limbs and branches. The limbs and branches came to be known as the Jews. The limbs and branches grew and became spectacular and glorious.

But there was a problem. The limbs and branches themselves thought they were the life of the tree. But they were mistaken. They were only limbs and branches. What made the tree special and alive could only be found in the very center of the trunk of the tree. It was what started with Abraham and it was located inside the contents of his seed. It was called faith.

Eventually, some of the branches and the limbs of the tree died and were cut off. The tree was in disarray and barely alive. But the gardener was not worried. This was actually the gardener’s plan. He had a design for his tree. It was planted to become more lovely and different than all the other trees ever created.

The gardener found healthy limbs from a wild olive tree and grafted them in. He filled the holes left behind by the dead limbs and branches. This made the tree more beautiful and fruitful. It gave honor and glory to the gardener. These grafted in limbs and branches were the Gentiles. These new branches would often set their eyes upon the dead limbs and branches. They were humbled and amazed that at the loss of a dead pile of once fruitful limbs they themselves had become a part of the tree. They understood the gracious and loving nature of the gardener.

The healthy tree continued to be healthy and grow for one simple reason. The remaining branches, both original and grafted, lived by faith. The seed that had begun with Abraham was also their source of life and strength. Every day the limbs and branches of the tree knew they were totally dependent upon the faith that constantly resonated from the center of the tree. This source of Abrahamic faith matured into the true Seed that had actually existed from the foundation of the world. That Seed was Christ. Christ was the true Seed of Abraham. Every living component of the tree was in essence living by faith in Jesus Christ. The mystery of the power of the tree had finally been revealed.

As the tree continued to grow, something amazing began to happen with the dead limbs and branches, the ones that had once been a part of the tree. They began to look at the new tree with its beautiful original style and also its wild olive branches. They saw its increasing fruitfulness. They saw the gardener watering it daily. They began to realize that they had been foolish. They learned that they had never been the source of the life of the tree, but rather it was the gardener and the power of the seed. They wanted to be part of the tree again. They began to beg the gardener to pluck them from the pile of dead branches and graft them back into the tree like the wild olive branches.

One by one the gardener rejoiced as he responded to each individual branch that begged to be a part of the tree. This time, they were not added because of Abraham, but grafted in by faith in Jesus. And it was easy to graft in branches that had already once been a part of the tree. As time went on the tree grew with such beauty and strength that even more olive branches and original limbs desired to be a part of the tree. The bigger the tree became, and the more fruit it bore, the more the gardener was glorified. Abraham’s Seed was also magnified and praised and honored by the growth and beauty of the tree.

God once planted a tree and called it Israel. It was Israel when it was only made up of branches and limbs that were Jews. It was Israel when some of the branches were lost and it became a tree of Jews and Gentiles. It remained Israel when old Jewish branches were grafted back in and more wild Gentile branches were also added. As the years went by that tree grew and grew and filled the whole earth. It is still called Israel. But it has another name. It is also called the church.

On a Friday, mankind once erected a tree of its own. Hanging from the center of that tree there was also a source of life. The men who raised that tree intended it to be an instrument of death. But the gardener knew better. There was a power source flowing from the man-made tree that was taken and added to the tree that the gardener had been watering for centuries. It was the key ingredient that made grafting possible. This made both trees beautiful. This made both trees come to life. This glorified the gardener and magnified the Seed.

The gardener is still adding branches to his tree. Have you been grafted in?

“And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.” – Romans 11:23

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” – Galatians 6:15-16


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I Believe He’d Go for You

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He was a good husband. He loved his wife. He was loyal to her and provided for her. He was not only a good husband; he was a good man. 

However, he was not a Christian. He made sure that his wife got to church regularly, but he had no interest in attending with her.

A son was born. The father shared his name with his son. He shared his entire name with his son, not merely the last name. From the time “junior” was born until the day that “senior” died, their relationship was, in the best sense of the term, a mutual admiration society. 

The father now made sure that both his wife and his namesake were able to attend worship services and Bible classes regularly. Still, he, himself, exhibited no desire to do so.

His wife had been sowing seeds all along the way. Her words and her actions demonstrated a love for him–and for his soul. Now, there was something else she could do. She could make sure that her husband “overheard” the discussions she and their son had about the Bible classes and sermons they heard. He didn’t act all that interested, but he couldn’t help “overhearing.” She made sure of that.

One day, when the son was still very young, his mother made a suggestion. She told her son of her inability to get his father to go to church. She then suggested that the son ask his father. She added these words:

“I believe he’d go for you.”

He did and he did! The son asked the father and the father did start going!

Sometime later, something else happened. Both the father and the son were baptized on the same day!

A good man became a good Christian man. 

Many of us who only got to know him during his later years knew of his work at a Christian youth camp; his “fill-in preaching” (for which he refused to accept any pay); his involvement in teaching people in jails and prisons about God and His Word; and for so many other things he did for the cause of Christ.

We (at least I) had no idea that he had not been brought up in a Christian environment and had, in earlier years, shown no interest in being a Christian. We had no idea that all of that changed because somebody for whom he cared deeply and who cared deeply about him asked him to start going to church. 

Who is that person in your life? Who is the next person who could be a valuable servant in the kingdom?

Could you at least ask him or her to attend church with you? Is that too much to ask?

I do not know who all of your closest relationships are. I do believe, though, that there is at least one person who cares enough about you to honor that simple request.

I believe he (or she) would go for you!


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Episode 52: Taking “The Lunch Ladies” Congregation-Wide (Guest: Philip Jenkins) [Podcast]

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The Lunch Ladies was written in 2015 to tell the story of how one youth group began to share the love of Christ in a clear, unmistakable way. Philip Jenkins, the writer of the book, joins Adam on this week’s podcast to talk about the program, but also how this can be done by anyone in any congregation.

If you want your congregation to be more loving and to grow, this is a program you’ll want to hear!

LOFpodcast

Get the Book

The Lunch Ladies: Cultivating an Actsmosphere by Philip Jenkins [Amazon]

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The Flu!

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How does someone who works in a germ factory (AKA an elementary school) get sick on spring break when away from the germ makers? I’m not sure, but I managed to do so last week. The first part of the week saw me spending more than my fair share of quality time with both my bed and my recliner. While much of that time was spent sound asleep, I was awake enough to think about two things I thought worthy of consideration:

1. Don’t wish for things without carefully considering the possible ramifications. When caught in the whirlwind of our “normal” life, I sometimes find myself wishing for some down time at home to rest and relax with no responsibilities. While those things can come in the form of a vacation or retreat, even then you are responsible for certain things – feeding yourself and family, making sure clothes are ready to wear, et cetera. If you truly wish for no responsibilities, be careful. I truly had no responsibilities earlier this week (thanks to my loving husband!), but it was not a carefree time. I hurt! It’s not normal for healthy adults to have no concerns! God created us to be active and useful (Ephesians 2:10) so be careful in your wishing!

2. Consider the fruits of your days. As I was nearing the end of Day 4 with very little to show for my life, I realized I do not like that feeling! I am used to being able to give a fairly lengthy list of things that I have accomplished that day. My list for Saturday through Tuesday was very short. What made me sadder was the quality (or lack thereof) of my list instead of the quantity. How often do I blame my lack of prayer or Bible reading on a lack of time and yet, with 4 days of nothing but time, what fruits could I show? It has made me think about not just filling my days with activities, but making sure they are activities that really matter: time in God’s Word, talking to Him, and serving His children (Ephesians 5:16).

So, the flu is terrible, but, in my constant effort to find good even in the bad, it can teach you some lessons. After all, you are slowed down to where you have to pay attention!

Luke 12:35-40  “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning,  and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.  If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!  But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into.  You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

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What Romans 8:28 Does–and Does Not–Say

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There is no way for me to know how many times I have heard Romans 8:28 quoted or read. It simply has to be one of the most well-known and beloved verses in the New Testament. In that great verse, Paul wrote, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (ESV).

That verse is packed with meaning, and there is no way in a short post to unpack it all. However, for some people, that verse has turned into something that turns them off of following Christ and trusting in God.

The reason is simple: they have taken this great promise and, in their minds, twisted it to say something it does not state.

An Easy Life?

Too many people feel that, when one becomes a Christian, God will remove all their problems. They may not state it that strongly, but some feel that, if they are striving to be faithful, they will face a fairly easy life.

They are much like the Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, the three friends who came to comfort the Old Testament patriarch Job. If you are familiar with that 42-chapter book, you remember how, for chapter after chapter, these “friends” attempted to get Job to admit to whatever wrongdoing he had committed to “earn” or “deserve” the severe punishment he was going through.

Implied in their statements, then, is the opposite: if one is faithful to the Lord, everything goes well. Life is quite easy because we are faithful and God makes everything work out well.

That’s Not Romans 8:28

That concept, however, it not what Romans 8:28 teaches. Not at all!

Paul did not write that everything that happens in the life of a faithful Christian is good. Christians face bad and difficult things throughout their days.

Sickness is bad.

A child dying is bad.

Bankruptcy is bad.

Job loss is bad.

Divorce is bad

And, virtually every day, Christians face these things, along with countless other negative situations.

It is then that people look at verses like Romans 8:28 and can get angry with God. In their minds, they think that God has promised that everything in life will be good.

It Works for God’s Ultimate Good

Instead, we need to see Romans 8:28 for what it says, both itself as well as in its context. When we do, it really gives an even deeper and greater meaning to this concept.

Earlier in the context, Paul famously wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). Paul is admitting that even faithful people suffer. That is the context; the foundation of this section!

In fact, creation itself suffers at times (verses 20 and 22), so we see suffering and difficulty all about us.

However, we have hope because God adopts us into His family (verse 23), and “In this hope we are saved” (v.24).

In that state of salvation, we can make it through sufferings because the “Spirit helps us in our weakness” (v.25). Again, we are weak at times. Not everything is good, but God provides help through struggles.

It is with that as the background that Paul writes the great promise of Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”

Paul is not saying that everything is good. He is saying that our Lord is powerful enough to work everything–even every struggle–to weave together a grander good, one that is to God’s ultimate glory.

“When I Am Weak…”

It brings to mind something else Paul wrote. To the church at Corinth, he said that he pleaded with the Lord to remove a “thorn in the flesh,” but the Lord did not take it away. Why? Because Christ said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

And Paul got it. He understood. Reacting to that, he ended that section with some of the most powerful words found in the New Testament: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (emphasis added, 2 Corinthians 12:10).

Look to the Ultimate Glory

You may not see the good in every situation; at least, not right away. Not every situation is good. That’s not what Romans 8:28 says.

But we serve a God who is in control of it all. We serve a God who is powerful enough to weave together a bigger and grander story than we could ever imagine. And, yes, even our weaknesses and struggles can play a part in that bigger story.

So trust Him, that He will work it all out for His ultimate good…

…and for your soul’s eternal good, as well.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:31, 37)

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AUTHOR: Adam Faughn

Negative Communication

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One of the fastest ways to tear a local body of Christ apart is with your mouth. If you want to split the church, use your tongue. Negativity is one of the worst things that can come upon a family of believers. If you engage in negative talk about a brother or sister in Christ, you should be ashamed.

I have been guilty of this sin myself. It is easy to get pulled into this pit by your closest friends in Christ. It starts innocently, with just the remarks about a person’s habits or weaknesses. But before you know it, you stop looking for the good in people and you accentuate the negative.

Consider how negative communication affects:

  1. The elders. They have the most difficult position in the church. They usually only get to hear complaints. People don’t come to them to say “Great job!” or “What can I do to make your job easier?” Instead, they usually say, “Why did you do that?” or “I don’t like it when….” or “You all need to do something about…” Negative talk about the eldership is hurtful to the ones who serve, and it discourages younger men from ever desiring the position. A constant critique of the eldership will eventually cause division in the church.
  2. The preachers. If you want to get a new preacher or youth minister every 2-5 years, then be highly critical of their activity. Try not to understand the anxiety and stress of their work. Spread a rumor about them. Pick on their sermons. Correct them whenever you get a chance. Challenge their work ethic. Preachers are involved with the members at a very high level. When they are the objects of negativity, it always gets back to them. They begin to lose confidence, feeling that they are ineffective or unwanted. Negative talk about the preacher will do more than pack his bags, it will take him out of the pulpit for good.
  3. The members. In order for families to be healthy, every member needs to find their place and purpose. When members of the body of Christ feel unloved, judged, or inadequate, the whole family will be in turmoil. On a daily basis, members of the family of God gossip, complain, note weaknesses in brethren, and dismiss the viability of certain people within the body of Christ. Not only is this sinful, but it contributes to Satan’s most important work–the attempt to destroy the work of Christ. The church is often in more danger from within than from without. Every child of God must take responsibility for how they treat fellow Christians.

So…“Accentuate the positive!  Eliminate the negative! And don’t mess with Mr. In-Between!”

 “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” ~ Ephesians 4:29

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A Tradition Unlike any Other

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There is no way of knowing how many times I’ve heard that phrase – a tradition unlike any other. I’ve heard it most of those times while watching the NCAA basketball tournament on television. For years, CBS has used that phrase to try to get their viewers to watch the next “big event” after that tournament concludes – The Masters golf tournament.

However, the tradition unlike any other I’m thinking about has nothing to do with golf. It has to do with a couple of guys watching the NCAA basketball tournament.

Somehow, while our son was still at home, the two of us got in the habit of spending some time together watching as much of the tournament as we could. We would stay up late on the Monday night of the championship game. We watched the game. We did not turn the television off as soon as the game was over. We waited for “One Shining Moment.” Finally, when it was over, we finally said, “Good night” and went to bed. 

Last Monday night the tradition continued in the “amended” fashion that has become the norm in more recent years. Since he lives away from his mother and me and has his own family, we now watch the game “together while apart.” I told somebody last Monday that I was going to stay up and watch a game that I really did not care much about. When I was asked why I would do that, I had a one-word answer: “Adam.”

To say that our son loves college basketball would be one of the great understatements of all time. I’ve kiddingly told people that he comes alive when the season starts and goes back into a shell as soon as “One Shining Moment” is over.

I like college basketball, too, but, at this point in my life, I like sleep a lot better. Since Kentucky was not in the game, the only reason I was up past my bedtime last Monday night was because of that “tradition unlike any other” – the tradition of watching that final game with my son.

As I watched in Kentucky, I knew he was watching in Alabama. We even texted once in a while (but not much) during the game. When the last strains of “One Shining Moment” faded, we talked to each other, shared a couple of thoughts about the game, told each other, “Good night,” and went to bed. It was just like old times – sort of. 

As I was lying in bed, I wondered how many more opportunities we will have to “share” this experience. I wondered if it means as much to him as it does to me

I wondered if it really is a tradition unlike any other? Could it be that other fathers and sons do exactly the same thing?

I don’t know the answer to all of those questions. I do know that it is a tradition unlike any other to me because it involves my son and me. 

As I thought about all of this, I also wondered how many young fathers take the time to create their own “traditions unlike any other” with their sons and daughters. I remember older people telling me when I was a young father how fleeting the years are when children are at home.

Now that I’m one of those older people, I can testify to the fact that they could not have been more correct. I’m not sure how good I was at, as my mother-in-law used to say, “making memories.”    

It is too late for me to have a do over as a parent. Whatever I did during the formative years of my children cannot be changed now. 

Hopefully, it is not too late for me to join the chorus of older people as we remind younger parents about the brevity and importance of those years when children are at home. For that reason, I would encourage parents of any age to do what they can while they can to establish —

a tradition unlike any other.

Someday, you may do what I’ve been doing as I have typed these words. You may smile through your tears and be glad that you’ve been involved in something on which neither time nor distance can have an impact.

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Learning Leviticus [Video]

Okay, so most of us avoid the third book of the Bible unless we “have to” read it for our daily Bible reading. Leviticus is a difficult book to read, mostly because there are almost no stories. Instead, the book of Leviticus is filled with law after law after law.

But there is more to the book than just a series of laws. If you are not familiar with The Bible Project on YouTube, I hope this video encourages you to check out what they are doing. In less than nine minutes, they share more helpful information about Leviticus than you may have ever seen before. Enjoy, then check out more of their videos on YouTube.

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The Most Influential Woman in My Life

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Today is my mother’s birthday. In Proverbs 31:28 we are told of the children of an excellent woman growing up and calling their mother blessed. On my mother’s birthday, I want to honor her by giving you just a few of the reasons that I consider my mother the most influential woman in my life.

  1. My mom taught me that, in every circumstance, God must come first. We never missed any services of the church for ball games, school functions, practices, or anything else. We were always taught that even extra church activities were more important than anything else we had going on. Back then, that just meant missing practice and consequentially sitting on the bench during the next ball game. Today, that means that my desires and wants come after what God would have me do.
  2. My mom taught me that you should never be ashamed to be “just a wife and mother.” My mom was always a stay at home mom. She fully focused on my dad and us. She was never ashamed and never embarrassed. She was always there for everything we ever did. She was the stabilizer in our family. She was devoted to our family as a unit. Back then, that meant a mom who was there after school every day and a mom who was at every ballgame. Today, that means that I don’t feel unfulfilled just because I am “only” a wife and mother.
  3. My mom taught me that each family must live “within their means.” As I said earlier, my mom was always a stay at home mom. We always lived on one income – and not a huge one at that. We never had fancy cars. We usually didn’t receive as many gifts for birthdays and Christmas as our friends did. We hardly ever went out to eat. Mom always let us know that things didn’t make you happy. She also always reminded us that we were better off than most people. Back then, that just meant not having everything my friends had. Today, that means I am better able to accept that sometimes I need to “do without” to achieve a greater purpose.
  4. My mom showed me how to be selfless. She always was. She gave herself the burned toast. She gave up her chair. The other person–whether her child or a stranger–was more important than herself. Back then, that just meant me enjoying “unburned” toast. Today, that means when I am tired and want to think of myself, even without me realizing it, I’ll picture my mom. I remember the countless times she was tired and just kept on for the sake of someone other than herself.

I could keep on listing the ways. When I think about the innumerable ways my mother has molded me into the person that I am, it helps me see what an impact I will have on my daughter and how she will be very much like me.

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AUTHOR: Leah Faughn

Five Minutes with Bartimaeus

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And they came to Jericho. And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; He is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprand up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to Him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52)

It was only five minutes, but I won’t soon forget it.

We were rushing around the Opryland Hotel at Lads to Leaders. Bible Bowl was done and we had just a few minutes to go to our room, let the kids practice leading their songs, and freshen up a bit before heading out to song leading.

But as we walked by one of the giant ballrooms, I just knew we needed to pause for a minute or two. Call it a dad’s intuition. Call it luck. Call it whatever you like, but I just knew it was the right thing to do.

See, in that giant ballroom, there was another event going on. It is event named after the blind man of the story told above: Bartimaeus. A few years ago, Lads to Leaders made the very wise decision to offer an event for people of all ages who have special needs. They create art work. They lead singing. They give speeches. They read Scripture.

And it is as moving as anything you will ever see.

I felt like my kids needed to see it, so we veered right and headed into the ballroom, sitting near the door.

A young man was leading a song. I don’t remember what it was, but everyone was standing and following along.

Then, they announced the name of another young man. I would guess he was probably mid-teens, maybe even twenty. He wanted to lead “This Little Light of Mine.”

From his wheelchair.

And he could scarcely talk.

But his finger went in the air and he–for all intents and purposes–grunted his way through the song. He did “blow” when it was time to say, “Don’t let Satan [blow] it out; I’m gonna let it shine.”

I watched him. Then I watched my children.

They followed along as if the greatest song leader in the brotherhood were leading them. So did everyone else in the room, even though we were singing a “little kid” song, and could not understand our leader.

But that was just the thing. We could understand him. Oh, we might not have been able to pick out many specific words from that song, but we could understand his heart. His Christian light was shining, and I have no doubt in my mind that he is going to let his light shine all the time, and that he will not hide it under a bushel (no!).

We only stayed five minutes, but I honestly think those five minutes changed the whole tenor of our trip.

When we got back to the room, I asked our kids (ages 10 and, on that day, 9) why they thought we had done that. Why had we paused in the middle of a crazy busy day to sing “This Little Light of Mine” with someone we could not understand?

Their answers were innocent, but profound. They realized that it encouraged the leader to have people there to sing along. They knew it made them feel good to make him feel good.

Then, with tears literally streaming down my face, I hugged my kids up close and I told them they were right, but that there was more. I said something like this: “It’s because I wanted you to see what you have. I don’t care if you never win a trophy or medal for leading a song or giving a speech. I want you to thank God every day that you are able to do those things so easily. I know your daddy sure is thankful.”

With that, we all cried, and I think they got it.

Bartimaeus could never have known that his name would still be used 2000 years later as encouragement to some very special people. He just wanted to meet Jesus, and he overcame a great difficulty to do so.

2000 years later, some very special people overcame so much more than I have ever had to just to sing a song. But they taught a lesson in just five minutes that changed my family.

For every “Bartimaeus” out there, may God be praised.

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AUTHOR: Adam Faughn