Christianity and theology

My Review of Conrad Mbewe’s Pastoral Preaching

I wrote this review a year ago and was posted on another site which currently is not active. I am posting it here for those who will find it helpful but cannot access it on the other site.  

Reviewing Dr. Conrad Mbewe’s Pastoral preaching: Building a People for God is a very huge task for me mainly for two reasons: first, Mbewe is not only a friend but also a seasoned and gifted preacher who has been faithfully preaching the gospel for over 30 years while I am a fledging preacher. Second, I am a Presbyterian and Conrad is a Baptist and as they say, “Baptists are good preachers while Presbyterian are good scholars” (please take that with a grain of salt).

However, I have decided to undertake this exercise because I believe that Pastoral Preaching is one of the great books that pastors, more especially in Africa, need to read and apply the helpful insights and principles therein to their pastoral ministries. As far as I know, this isprobably the first published book on preaching written by an African Reformed preacher apart from Dr. O. Palmer Robertson’s Preaching Made Practical.  I always consider Robertson as an African owing to many years he has spent in Africa training preachers and Christian leaders and also because he wrote Preaching Made Practical with a true African touch.

Pastoral Preaching was released at the beginning of 2017 by Langham Preaching Resources. In the book, Mbewe begins by highlighting why he decided to write. He had noticed that more often than not the preaching in Africa is not producing believers who are spiritually mature because more pulpits are occupied by motivational speakers rather than preachers. The important role of preaching has also been replaced by exorcism services and entertaining “worship” in many churches. Although the problem is not unique to Africa, the continent scores highly on the chart.

Mbewe has also strove to make the book more relevant and easily understood by an African readership. He is totally aware that the essence of effective communication is good understanding of your audience. For instance, Mbewe substitutes the expression, “the tip of an iceberg,” with an illustration of thatching a house (p. 1). Then he goes on to note, “As your read this book you will soon discover that my primary audience is pastors serving in Africa. This is deliberate. Pastors in the Western world have so many Bible colleges and seminaries and so many books on pastoral ministry that to write for them would be like adding a drop to an ocean” (p.4). He then adds, “I appreciate the principles being taught (by Western authors) but I often find the authors shooting over the heads of those who live in my own neighborhood, who have not been exposed to the thought patterns and idioms of the Western world…So, what I have done in this book is basically to take the same principles and clothe them in the African attire” (p.4).

Mbewe also makes it clear at the beginning of the book that Pastoral Preaching is not a homiletics book. (Homiletics can basically be defined as the art of preparing and delivering sermons). Rather, his book is concerned with how preaching should be done in a pastoral context. “In this book I am addressing a number of key areas related to preaching in a pastoral context” (p. 2). This means that if one is looking for a book that guides you through the stages of sermon preparation, this book is not ideal for that undertaking. Yet, despite not concentrating on preparing and delivering sermons, in chapters 13-15, Mbewe takes time to briefly guide the preacher on how he can develop sermons from narratives (stories), didactic passages (passages that contain instructions), and poetic and prophetic passages of the Bible. In chapter 11, he also tackles how a preacher can craft an introduction, body and conclusion. Mbewe, further, discusses the effective use of illustrations and applications. He concludes the chapter by writing on how a preacher can modulate his voice and gestures and maintain a good eye contact.

Pastoral Preaching reveals the pastoral heart of Mbewe. As you read the book, you realize that he is not a hireling but an undershepherd of Christ who fully understands and cares for the challenges that pastors and Christians in Africa face. He endeavors to propose some measures that might alleviate these problems.  For instance, for the lack of formal training for many pastors in Africa, he encourages the old but trusted approach of having men trained under a more mature and godly minister. Obviously, he does not argue that formal training is irrelevant; however, in cases where it is impossible to attain such training, this approach will suffice.

Mbewe also points out the need for congregations to fulfill their biblical mandate to take care and support those who labour among them faithfully despite that many African Christians live with limited resources. In chapters 17-18, he discusses the importance of godliness in the lives of ministers. He gives an ever-timely admonition: “It is vital to remember that as a pastor you are first of all a Christian. You are a sheep before you are a shepherd. Therefore, all the pleas in Scripture for a Christian to live a godly life apply to you as well…You live in a fallen world and struggle with the remains of your own fallen nature, and so you must pursue holiness in the same way that every Christian is urged to do so” (p. 163).

One area, which I wish Mbewe, could have given more thought is the distinction he makes between evangelistic and pastoral preaching. “Evangelistic preaching is needed to bring sinners into the kingdom” and pastoral preaching is “to help those who have come to Christ to grow spiritually” (p.9). I found this distinction to be somewhat confusing in the sense that it seems to imply that evangelistic preaching is not pastoral. Mbewe somehow realizes that and points out, “Although I have made a clear distinction between evangelistic and pastoral preaching, I am not suggesting that pastors need to choose one over the other. Pastors are called to do both…So, the two types of preaching are not necessarily mutually exclusive” (p. 14). He further discusses the difference in chapter 2 as he uses the illustration of a pastor as a shepherd (p. 18-19).

Despite the effort to convince the reader of this difference in chapters 1 and 2, I still think that Mbewe’s distinction is “artificial” as he rightly observes in chapter 1 (p.9) because both evangelistic and teaching aspects should be understood as being part and parcel of pastoral preaching. Evangelistic preaching is pastoral preaching. Perhaps a better distinction could have been evangelistic and doctrinal or instructional preaching (“doctrinal” meaning “teaching” from the Greek word “didache”) as Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones rightly distinguishes in his masterpiece on preaching, Preaching and Preachers.  “It is important that we should recognize these two main sections in the message of the Bible. The first is what you may call the message of salvation, the kerygma, that is what determines evangelistic preaching. The second is the teaching aspect, the didache, that which builds up those who have already believed – the edification of the saints”  (© 1971 by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Zondervan Publishers, p. 62).

But this is a small detail compared to the rich gold that my fellow African preachers would mine from the book. I can’t agree more with John  MacArthur who observes that  the book embodies all the qualities of the preaching ministry of Mbewe, which are clarity, accuracy, thoroughness, courage, insight, and uncompromising faithfulness to the text of Scripture. That is undeniably true of Pastoral Preaching: Building a People for God.

 

 

 

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Sound Teaching

The Challenge for the Preacher

“When it comes to preaching the Word of God, a man will never follow the right course if he cannot forget self, and close his eyes to anything that might distract him in this world from acting according to God’s pure ways. Indeed, he will surely stray away from the path, first to one side, then to the other. Hence, God’s doctrines are often corrupted because those who ought to preach them are inclined to malevolent, or to seek the favour of their hearers. They may fear to incur bad feeling or to provoke anger against themselves.

Therefore, it is impossible for us to serve God in our natural state; we must be absolutely determined, with unshakeable constancy, to suffer for the doctrines that we preach, and not to let this cause us grief. We must fight under the ensign of our captain, Jesus Christ, knowing that we cannot share in the glory of his resurrection if we have not first suffered with him, following his example. All believers must certainly strengthen themselves to do these things. . .

. . .Those who are called by God to preach his Word must be resolved that they will not compromise, even if the whole world were to rise up against them. They must bear all conflicts, knowing that God will help them in their need and always grant them victory, provided they follow their vocation in purity and simplicity. The greatest insult and injury that we can give to God is in yielding to the desires of man, and twisting his Word both left and right. It is not only a question of abandoning our own ideas, but also of constantly upholding God’s truth, which is immutable; it must never be altered, however changeable and inconstant man may be.”

Taken from: John Calvin’s Sermons on Galatians. (Copied from Reformed Bibliophile, http://www.erictyoung.com ).

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Sound Teaching

All Scripture is All about Christ

I will tell you one thing that proves to a demonstration, that Christ is still precious to his people, and it is this:-send one of Christ’s people to hear the most noted preacher of the age, whoever that may be; he preaches a very learned sermon, very fine and magnificent, but there is not a word about Christ in that sermon.Suppose that to be the case, and the Christian man will go out and say, “I did not care a farthing for that man’s discourse.” Why? “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. I heard nothing about Christ.”

Send that man on the Sabbath morning to hear some hedge and ditch preacher, some one who cuts the king’s English about never so badly, but who preaches Jesus Christ-you will see the tears rolling down that man’s face, and when he comes out he will say, “I do not like that man’s bad grammar; I do not like the many mistakes he has made, but oh! it has done my heart good, for he spoke about Christ.” That, after all, is the main thing for the Christian; he wants to hear about his Lord, and if he hears him magnified he will overlook a hundred faults.

In fact, you will find that Christians are all agreed, that the best sermon is that which is fullest of Christ. They never like to hear a sermon unless there is something of Christ in it. A Welsh minister who was preaching last Sabbath at the chapel of my dear brother, Jonathan George, was saying, that Christ was the sum and substance of the gospel, and he broke out into this story:-

A young man had been preaching in the presence of a venerable divine, and after he had done he went to the old minister, and said, “What do you think of my sermon?”

“A very poor sermon indeed,” said he.

“A poor sermon?” said the young man, “it took me a long time to study it.”

“Ay, no doubt of it.”

“Why, did you not think my explanation of the text a very good one?”

“Oh, yes,” said the old preacher, “very good indeed.”

“Well, then, why do you say it is a poor sermon? Didn’t you think the metaphors were appropriate and the arguments conclusive?”

“Yes, they were very good as far as that goes, but still it was a very poor sermon.”

“Will you tell me why you think it a poor sermon?”

“Because,” said he, “there was no Christ in it.”

“Well,” said the young man, “Christ was not in the text; we are not to be preaching Christ always, we must preach what is in the text.”

So the old man said, “Don’t you know young man that from every town, and every village, and every little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London?”

“Yes,” said the young man.

“Ah!” said the old divine “and so from every text in Scripture, there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ. And my dear brother, your business is when you get to a text, to say, ‘Now what is the road to Christ?’ and then preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis-Christ. And,” said he, “I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it.” Now since you say amen to that, and declare that what you want to hear is Jesus Christ, the text is proved-“Unto you therefore which believe he is precious.”” 

Taken from the sermon on 1 Peter 2:7  by Charles H.  Spurgeon. Delivered on March 13, 1859.

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My Life as a Christian

Lecture #3: The Minister’s Fainting Fits

In this lecture, pastor Spurgeon discusses depression in the life of pastors and indeed we might extend these truths to the life of every Christian. He notes, “Fits of depression come over the most of us. Usually as cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.”

Spurgeon observes five reasons that would cause depression in pastors.  First, they are human. “Being men, they are compassed with infirmity, and heirs of sorrow.” Secondly, as humans most of them are in some way or another unsound physically. By this he implies physical challenges especially sicknesses. Thirdly, he notes lack of enough rest from studying and work. A painter takes care of his brush but often a pastor ignores to care of his important tool, the brain or mind.

Fourthly he observes the following: “Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without, sometimes sinking to the dust? Passionate longings after men’s conversion, if not fully satisfied, consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment. How often on Lord’s Day evenings, do we feel as if life were completely washed out of us! After pouring out our souls over our congregations, we feel like empty earthen pitchers which a child might break.”

Lastly he notes: “Our position in the church will also conduce to this. A minister fully equipped for his work, will usually be a spirit by himself, above, beyond and apart from others. In the ranks, men walk shoulder to shoulder, with many comrades, but as the officer rises in rank, men of his standing are fewer in number. There are many soldiers, few captains, fewer colonels, but only one commander-in-chief. Like their Lord in Gethsemane, they look in vain for comfort to the disciples sleeping around them; they are shocked at the apathy of their little band of brethren, and return to their secret agony with all the heavier burden pressing upon them, because they have found their dearest companions slumbering.”

Basing on his personal experiences, Spurgeon goes on to highlight moments that pastors are prone to be overcome by depression.  “The times most favorable to fits of depression, so far as I have experienced, may be summed up in the a brief catalogue. First among them, I must mention the hour of great success. When at last a long-cherished desire is fulfilled, when God has been glorified greatly by our means, and a great triumph achieved, then we are apt to faint.” He illustrates this point with the life of Elijah who gave in to depression soon after a great victory for the Lord on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18-19).

Secondly, “Before any great achievement, some measure of the same depression is very usual. Surveying the difficulties before us, our hearts sink within us. The sons of Anak stalk before us, and we are as grasshoppers in our own sight in their presence. The cities of Canaan are walled up to heaven, and who are we that we should hope to capture them…This depression comes over me whenever the Lord is preparing a larger blessing for my ministry; the cloud is black before it breaks, and overshadows before it yields its deluge of mercy. Depression has now become to me as a prophet in rough clothing, a John the Baptist, heralding the nearer coming of my Lord’s richer benison.”

Thirdly, “In the midst of a long stretch of unbroken labor, the same affliction may be looked for…Our Sabbaths are our days of toil, and if we do not rest upon some other day we shall break down. Even the earth must lie fallow and have her Sabbaths, and so must we. Hence the wisdom and compassion of our Lord, when he said to his disciples, “Let us go into the desert and rest awhile.” What! When the people are fainting? When the multitudes are like sheep upon the mountains without a shepherd? The Master knows better than to exhaust his servants and quench the light of Israel. Rest time is not waste time.”

Fourthly, “One crushing stroke has sometimes laid the minister very low. The brother most relied upon becomes a traitor. Judas lifts up his heel against the man who trusted him, and the preacher’s heart for the moment fails him. We are all too apt to look at an arm of flesh, and from that propensity many of our sorrows arise.  Equally, overwhelming is the blow when an honored and beloved member yields to temptation, and disgraces the holy name with which he was named…the trials of a true minister are not a few, and such as are caused by ungrateful professors are harder to bear than the coarsest attacks of avowed enemies. Let no man who looks for ease of mind and seeks the quietude of life enter the ministry; if he does so he will flee from it in disgust.”

Fifthly, “When troubles multiply, and discouragements follow each other in long succession…If there was a regulated pause between the buffetings of adversity, the spirit would stand prepared; but when they come suddenly and heavily, like the battering of great hailstones, the pilgrim may well be amazed.”

Lastly, “This evil will also come upon us, we know not why, and then it is more difficult to drive it away. Causeless depression is not to be reasoned with, nor can David’s harp charm it away by sweet discoursings.” Spurgeon emphasizes that in this case just as in all the other cases, our only hope is in Christ. “The iron bolt which so mysteriously fastens the door of hope and hold our spirits in gloomy prison, needs a heavenly hand to push it back; and when that hand is seen we cry with the  Apostle, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (2 Cor. 1:3, 4).”

Wrapping up the lecture, our professor has the following words of wisdom. “Be not be dismayed by soul-trouble. Count it no strange thing, but a part of ordinary ministerial experience.  Should the power of depression be more than ordinary, think not that all is over with your usefulness. Cast not away your confidence even if the enemy’s foot be on your neck, expect to rise and overthrow him. Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsake not his saint.

“Put no trust in frames and feelings. Trust in God alone, and lean not on the reeds of human help. Be not surprised when friends fail you: it is a falling world. Never count on the immutability in man. The disciples of Jesus forsook him; be not amazed if your adherents wander away to other teachers.

“Serve God with all your might while the candle is burning, and then when it goes out for a season, you will have the less to regret. Be content to be nothing, for that is what you are. When your own emptiness is painfully forced upon your consciousness, chide yourself that you ever dreamed of being full, except in the Lord. Continue, with double earnestness to serve your Lord when no visible result is before you. Any simpleton can follow the narrow path in the light: faith’s rare wisdom enables us to march on in the dark with infallible accuracy, since she places her hand in that of her Great Guide.”

Please mark these words of comfort from pastor Spurgeon: “Between this and heaven there may be rougher weather yet, but it is all provided for by our covenant Head (God). In nothing let us be turned aside from the path which the divine call has urged us to pursue. Come fair or come foul, the pulpit is our watch-tower, and the ministry our warfare; be it ours, when we cannot see the face of our God, to trust under THE SHADOW OF HIS WINGS.” Amen!

Taken from Lectures to my Students by C.H. Spurgeon

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My Life as a Christian

Lecture #2: The Call to the Ministry (Second Session)

Pastor Spurgeon continues with his lecture…

“The first sign of the heavenly call is an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work.  In order to a true call to the ministry there must be an irresistible, overwhelming craving and raging thirst for telling others what God has done to our own souls…If any student in this room could be content to be a newspaper editor, or a grocer, or a farmer, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or a senator, or a king, in the name of heaven let him go his way.

“We must feel that woe is unto us if we preach not the gospel; the word of God must be unto us as fire in our bones, otherwise, if we undertake the ministry, we shall be unhappy in it and unable to bear the self-denials incident to it, and shall be of little service to those among whom we minister. I speak of self-denials, and well I may; for the true pastor’s work is full of them.  (Therefore), the desire to ministry must be thoughtful one and must be thoroughly disinterested one meaning that if a man can detect, after the most earnest self-examination, any other motive than the glory of God and the good of souls, he must turn aside from it at once.

“In the second place, combined with the earnest desire to become a pastor, there must be aptness to teach and some measure of the other qualities needful for the office of a public instructor.  I do not claim  that the first time a man rises to speak he must preach  as well as Robert Hall did in his later days…If a man be called to preach, he will be endowed with a degree of speaking ability, which he will cultivate increase. If the gift of utterance be not there in a measure at the first, it is not likely that it will ever be developed.

“I have heard of a gentleman who had a most intense desire to preach, and pressed his suit upon his minister, until after a multitude of rebuffs he obtained leave to preach a trial sermon. That opportunity was the end  of his importunity, for upon announcing his text he found himself bereft of every idea but one, which he delivered feelingly, and then descended the rostrum. “My brethren,” said he, “if any of you think it an easy thing to preach, I advise you to come up here and have all the conceit taken out of you.”

“I should not complete this point if I did not add, that mere ability to edify, and aptness to teach is not enough, there must be other talents to complete the pastoral character. Sound judgment and solid experience must instruct you; gentle manners and loving affections must sway you; firmness and courage must be manifest; and tenderness and sympathy must not be lacking.

Gifts administrative in ruling well will be as requisite as gifts instructive in teaching well. You must be fitted to lead, prepared to endure, and able to persevere. In grace, you should be head and shoulders above the rest of the people, able to be their father and counselor. Read carefully the qualifications of an elder, given in 1 Timothy 3:2-7, and in Titus 1:6-9. If such gifts and graces be not in you and abound, it may be possible for you to succeed as an evangelist, but as a pastor you will be of no account.

“In order further to prove a man’s call, after al little exercise of his gifts, such as I have already spoken of, he must see a measure of conversion-work going on under his efforts, or he may conclude that he has made a mistake, and therefore, may go back by the best way he can…There must be some measure of conversion-work in your irregular labors before you can believe that preaching is to be your life-work…Brethren, if the Lord give you no zeal for souls, keep to the lapstone or the trowel, but avoid the pulpit as you value your heart’s peace and your future salvation.

“A step beyond all this is however needful in our inquiry. The will of the Lord concerning pastors is made known through the prayerful judgment of his church. It is needful as a proof of your vocation that your preaching should be acceptable to the people of God. God usually opens doors of utterance for those whom he calls to speak in his name…Standing up to preach, our spirit will be judged of the assembly, and if it be condemned, or if, as a general rule, the church is not edified, the conclusion may not be disputed, that we are not sent of God.

“Churches are not all wise, neither do they all judge in the power of the Holy Ghost, but many of them judge after the flesh; yet I had sooner accept the opinion of a company of the Lord’s people than my own upon so personal a subject as my own gifts and graces.”

Professor Spurgeon wraps up the session with this deep insight borrowed from John Newton’s letter to a friend:

“If it be the Lord’s will to bring you into his ministry, he has already appointed your place and service, and though you know it not at present, you shall at a proper time. If you had the talents of an angel, you could do no good with them till his hour is come, and till he leads you to the people whom he has determined to bless by your means. It is very difficult to restrain ourselves within the bounds of prudence here, when our zeal is warm: a sense of the love of Christ upon our hearts, and a tender compassion for poor sinners, is ready to prompt us to break out too soon; but he that believes shall not make haste.”

The lecture to be concluded later…

 

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My Life as a Christian

Lecture #2: The Call to the Ministry (First Session)

Our professor, Charles Spurgeon, just finished his lecture #1, two days ago. Today, he is bringing us his second lecture which he has entitled, “The Call to the Ministry.” This lecture will be divided into three sessions. The first one is more of an introduction. In the second session, the professor will lecture on 5 essentials to be considered in ascertaining a call to the ministry. He will conclude the lecture in the third session by sharing his personal experiences to aspirants for the ministry.

“Any Christian has a right to disseminate the gospel who has the ability to do so; and more, he not only has the right, but it is his duty to do so as long as he lives (Rev. 22:17). The propagation of the gospel is left, not to a few, but to all the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ according to the measure of grace entrusted to them by the Holy Spirit, each man is bound to minister in his day and generation, both to the church and among unbelievers.

“Indeed, this question goes beyond men, and even includes the whole of the other sex; whether believers are male or female, they are all bound, when enabled by divine grace, to exert themselves to the service, however, need not take the particular form of preaching-certainly, in some cases it must not, as for instance in the case of females, who public teaching is expressly prohibited (1 Tim. 2:12; 1 Cor. 14:34).

“I do not, however, in this lecture allude to occasional preaching, or any other form of ministry common to all the saints, but to the work and office of the bishopric (pastor), in which is included both teaching and bearing rule in the church, which requires dedication of a man’s entire life to spiritual work, and separation from every secular calling (2 Tim. 2:4); and entitles the man to cast himself for temporal supplies upon the church of God, since he gives up all his time, energies, and endeavors, for the  good of those over whom he presides (1 Cor. 9:11; 1 Tim. 5:18).

Professor Spurgeon then goes no to highlight the importance of God’s call to ministry rather than self-calling, so to speak. He writes, “No man may intrude into the sheepfold as an under-shepherd; he must have an eye to the chief Shepherd, and wait his beck and command. Or ever a man stands forth as God’s ambassador, he must wait for the call from above; and if he does not so, but rushes into the sacred office, the Lord will say of him and others like him, “I sent them not, neither commanded them; therefore, they shall not profit this people at all, says the Lord,” (Jer. 23:32).”

Spurgeon at this juncture cites instances of prophets Isaiah (Is.6:8), Jeremiah (Jer. 1:4-10), Ezekiel (Ezk. 2:1-3; 3:1-4), and Daniel who had been called into ministry by God. He then applies the truths regarding the calling of these prophets to the present day. “In the present dispensation, the priesthood is common to all the saints; but to prophecy, or what is analogous to be moved by the Holy Ghost to give oneself up wholly to the proclamation of the gospel, is, as a matter of fact, the gift and calling of only a comparatively small number; and surely these need to be sure of the rightfulness of their position as were the prophets; and yet how can they justify their office, except by a similar call?”

“Brethren, I trust you may be able one day to speak of the flock over whom “the Holy Ghost has made you overseers” (Acts 20:28), and I pray that every one of you may be able to say with the apostle of the Gentiles, that your ministry is not of man, neither by man, but that you have received it of the Lord (Gal. 1:1). In you may that ancient promise be fulfilled, “I will give them pastors according to mine heart,” (Jer. 3:15)…As the Lord Jesus went up to the Mount and called to him whom he would, and then sent them forth to preach (Mark 3:13), even so may he select you, call you upward to commune with himself, and send you forth as his elect servants to bless both the church and the world.”

The first session of this lecture ends here…

 

 

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