A Mother's High Calling

Selected highlights from this sermon.

Motherhood is not an easy task but it is rewarding. 

Having children is a divine calling from God, and every child is valuable because they are created in His image. Like Mary, mothers are called to embrace their role, dedicating their children to God and nurturing them in the faith.  But we must also realize that parenting often leads to pain and conflict. Even when we’re struggling with heartache, we’re reminded that the rewards of Christian motherhood are often delayed.

Will we persevere and raise our children to praise the Lord?

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This is the second in a series of messages called Fighting for Your Family. And we have to fight for our family. It says in Nehemiah 4, “Fight for your brothers, your sisters, your wives,” and today we have to fight like never before, not physically but spiritually for the family.

I’m expecting miracles as a result of his series, not because of the messages as such, though I hope that God uses them, but rather if we pray together as families, and as we begin to call on God, God can do what we can’t. He can do what sermons can’t do. We can take the Word of God and apply it.

Last time I gave you the challenge of praying for two miracles. Pray first of all for the miracle within, that whatever resentment, anger, brokenness there might be, that God might bring about a kind of healing so that there can be reconciliation and hope, and as a result of the past that there might even be a tremendous amount of blessing. But also pray for another miracle. Pray for somebody else – maybe your spouse, maybe a wayward child, or maybe there are other people and you’re saying, “I am going to call on God and things are going to be different because I have prayed.”

This morning I was so blessed here at the church. Rather early on a woman came to me and said, “Oh, thank you so much for the assignment that you gave us last week, reading 1 Corinthians 13 everyday. She said it made a great change in her life, “And God is working in me,” she said. That blessed my soul.

Every one of these messages is going to have an assignment. Today’s is going to be very clear and very simple in many respects and it will be given to you near the end of the message, but stay with us.

Well, we emphasize, of course, motherhood, and you know this week someone sent me questions that were answered by second graders. There’s nothing as sweet as children.

Question: Why did God make Moms? Answer: Because she’s the only one who knows where the Scotch Tape is. And isn’t that true? Another answer was, mostly to clean the house. There you go. More thoughtfully, to help us out when we were getting born.

Question: How did God make mothers? I like this one. He made my mom just like he made me but he used bigger parts. (laughter)

Question: Why did God give you the mother you have and not someone else’s mom? Answers: because we’re related; because He knows (and I love this one) she’d love me more than any other person’s mom. That’s great.

Question: What did your mom know about your dad to marry him? His last name! (laughter)

And then a final question: Does he make at least $800 a year, and did he say no to drugs and yes to chores? I think that is very important and hopefully it’s even a little more than $800 a year, but at least the kid is on his way.

Motherhood! Well today we’re going to look at the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and I can imagine immediately what you are thinking. You’re thinking to yourself, “Already I struggle with being a mother, and I feel so inadequate and I feel as if I am failing, and now you are going to take this woman who went to heaven every evening supposedly, and came back every morning, and you are going to use her as an example just to load me with more guilt.”
Not at all! This message is going to be one that is laced with grace, but I need to tell you that the Mary that I am going to present to you today is not the somber-faced woman that we see on icons and statues. This Mary was a tough woman who managed a blended family that obviously had a great deal of conflict, and for the most part she did it alone. This is not the Mary that we oftentimes visualize. In the next few moments I hope to blow every stereotype as we look at the total teaching of the Bible.

I need to warn you in advance that we might not be able to turn to all the passages I’d like to turn to, so in some instances I may simply give you the reference. Take your pencil and jot them down and look them up later because I want you to see that I am not making this up. And when this is over I hope that even those who are not married will be able to understand that the principles of this godly woman help all of us in the family and highlight the importance of childhood and family reconciliation.

First of all, we see, of course, the importance of realizing that having a child is a divine calling from God. Do we even need to turn to the first chapter of Luke because it’s really the Christmas story? You know how an angel comes and says, “You’ve received favor from God. You’ll conceive in your womb and bear a son (This is Luke 1:21). He shall be great. His name shall be Jesus. He will save His people, etc.” Mary asks, “How can this be because I am a virgin?” and he says, “The Holy Spirit will overshadow you and you will have created within you this child. This holy child will be created within you. You will conceive but do so miraculously.” And Mary says, “Be it as you wish.” Wow!

Well, first of all I want you to see that raising a child is a divine calling. Was it important for Mary to give great concern and attention to raising Jesus? You say, “Well, of course,” and you’re saying to me today, “But I have a four-year old son, and Pastor, believe me, he’s not Jesus.” (laughter) No, he’s not, but he’s also an eternal being.

Now Jesus was eternal in both ways. He was eternal in eternity past because He’s the one who existed as the Son of God forever. He was actually the creator. He created His own mother ultimately because He was God, but He is also going to exist as a man forever. The Bible says in the book of Hebrews, “This man, because He has an unchangeable priesthood, endures forever,” and the child that you are raising is also going to endure forever. He’s a forever baby, existing forever either in unimaginable bliss, or unimaginable horror – one of two places. He is an eternal child.

That child that you are raising is also a valuable child. He is of great value because, you see, he’s not simply a product of conception. The moment a woman conceives she already knows, by the way, that she is a mother. God has implanted that in her heart. But the moment that conception takes place, God begins to go to work and not only create the biology of the child – the physical characteristics, but He also implants within that child a soul, and stamps on that soul the Divine so that every single child is created in the image of God, no matter what the circumstances of the conception were.

I love to tell the story of a young woman in Los Angeles, who at the age of 14 was sexually assaulted, and she gave birth to a little baby girl, whom she called Ethel. When Ethel became an adult she said she never as a child had a lap to sit on. She said, “Every child should have a lap to sit on.” Absolutely, every child should have a lap to sit on. But that child grew up and she became Ethel Waters, and those of us who come from another generation remember night after night her singing in the Billy Graham Crusades. And her favorite song was His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me. And I think that she loved that song because she knew that when she was conceived, regardless of the circumstances, she was valuable to God and His eye was on that sparrow, even before she was born. Every child is valuable. Every child is created in the image of God. Could there be a higher calling?

Secondly, you have the dedication. Now this takes place here in the Scriptures in Luke 2, and I wish we had time to read it all, but I’m in Luke 2, and there in verse 22, it says “And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses (Jesus was about eight days old), they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.”

That’s what happens here at the Moody Church when we have a child dedication. We are presenting the child to the Lord. But in order for Mary to be the mother that she had to be, she had several issues that she needed to surrender on. First of all she had to welcome motherhood. Remember she was not campaigning for this particular assignment. It was given to her by God. And it wasn’t easy for her to say to people, “Oh, you know, I’m not married but I am pregnant, and I had an angel come to me and tell me that this was to be divine.” And the neighbors would say, “Yada yada yada.”

It was not easy but she, first of all, gave herself to God. She embraced her responsibility as a mother and then she dedicated the little baby, Jesus, to God. Oh my! Parents, today (and by the way the next message in the series is to dads, but now I am speaking to moms) will you remember that when you have that child I want you to visualize God in heaven saying to you, “This is My child. Raise him or raise her for Me,” because you are going to have accountability. And parents, please (and I speak especially I suppose to mothers), if you have a great deal of hurt, if you are angry at the child’s father because he has walked away and now you are a single mom, and there are a hundred different scenarios we would tell you, please don’t transfer that particular feeling that you have toward the child’s father to the child and be an angry mom. Embrace that responsibility gladly regardless of your past, and say, “Oh God, this child has come from You to me, and You are telling me to raise it for your glory.”

Mary didn’t know what she was getting into. That’s why we are going to be very surprised at the kinds of hassles that she had in her own family. And you know Simeon here in this experience says to her, and I realized this, but yesterday afternoon as I read this it hit me with such clarity that when Simeon speaks later on there in the temple, he’s speaking to Mary. He does not speak to Joseph. Later on it will become clear why, but it says here, “To Mary, His mother, he said, ‘Behold this Child is appointed for the fall and the rise of many in Israel and for a sign to be opposed, and a sword will pierce through your own soul also so that the thoughts of many people might be revealed.”

Motherhood comes with its joys, but oftentimes sorrows are part of the assignment. Mary is going to have to endure that sword, as we’ll explain in just a moment, and she is going to have to endure it alone evidently, without her husband. What a challenge she is going to have! But she didn’t know whom she was raising. I mean she knew that He was the divine child, but she had no idea what this meant, and you don’t know who you are raising either, my dear friend.

This past week I was reading a book written by Charles Swindoll. My claim to fame is that he and I are friends, though we are distant friends. He’s a great preacher. You’ve probably heard him on the radio. He’s on about a thousand stations. He says in his book that his parents really didn’t want him, that they always favored the older brother. “Why can’t you be like the older brother? Yada, yada, yada,” and you know, “Why did we have you?” And I’m thinking to myself, “You are raising Charles Swindoll, for heaven’s sake, and you have that kind of an attitude toward him?”

You have no idea who you are raising. Raise him, raise her for Jesus, and you might too live someday to be very pleasantly surprised.

The dedication! Next we have the nurturing responsibility and this fell on Mary’s shoulders. We shall see this also, and this is in Luke 2, and I wish we could read the story but we can’t. I assume that you know it. His parents are at the Passover in Jerusalem, and He’s 12 years old, and they are now going back and they go an entire day’s journey without realizing that Jesus isn’t in the company. Now Jesus had His friends. He had his relatives. By now probably He had His half brothers, some of them certainly because in total there were four brothers and at least two sisters, and so they think to themselves, “Well, Jesus is there,” and they are with the younger children, of course, who were born later, but they go an entire day’s journey and Jesus isn’t there. And then they go back to Jerusalem, and I’m just reading the text. It took them three days to find Him. They were probably thinking, “Oh, He’s playing with the other kids in this suburb or this area of Jerusalem.” He’s not there, and He’s not there. What in the world is a twelve-year old kid doing in the temple? So they find Him three days later.

Have you ever lost a child? You know I remember at the condo, and it’s a small condo, when one of our grandchildren pushed the button, hopped in the elevator, and didn’t realize that he was in the elevator alone. He got off on some floor and he thought that it was the right floor because every floor looks like the others. And you know we’re thinking, “Where is he? Where is he? You run up on that floor, and I’ll go up on this floor. We need to find this kid.”

How would you like to lose a twelve-year old at a Cubs game? That’d bring some white hair to you rather quickly. So His mother now speaks. She takes the lead here. “When His parents saw Him they were astonished, and His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have You treated us so? Behold Your father and I have been searching for You in great distress.’” I would think so. And He answers and says, “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?

Jesus isn’t an easy child to parent. (laughter) He breaks the mold. “What do you mean, your father’s house? Your father’s house is there in Nazareth in the carpenter shop, and that’s where You should be.” And Jesus said, “No, no, no, this is My Father’s house.”

He was not easy to raise. He was always punting the ball to His divine origin and not His human origin. Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus ever call Mary his mother. They are at the feast there and they have no wine, and He’s saying, “Now Mom.” No, He doesn’t call her that. He calls her Woman. “Woman, what have I to do with thee? Don’t invade my space.” That’s what He’s saying.

He’s on the cross and He is dying, and you can read it there in John 19, and He says, “Woman, behold thy Son,” and He’s looking at John and says, “John, behold thy mother.” But He doesn’t call her Mother. Why? She was the physical aspect of His being, but He knew He had a divine origin. He knew that He was responsible to His Father in heaven, and so He wanted, right from the beginning, to sever that bond, that physical bond so that she would realize that He had a spiritual bond because this was no ordinary child. He was no ordinary child at all.

And you know they had to treat Jesus differently than they did the other children, and you have to treat each of your children differently because each child has its own bent, its own DNA, and it’s not “one size fits all.”

You have some children who are incredibly sensitive. You look at them and they dissolve into tears. You have other children who need a lot more than that to dissolve them into tears. I happen to be related to someone (and I’ll be as vague as possible) who, when he was getting a spanking for eating chocolates, reached over and took another one during the spanking. (laughter) Well, he also wasn’t Jesus.

But Mary has to negotiate that. Now the Bible does say that He went to Nazareth and was submissive to them, and His mother treasured all these things in her heart. She’s trying to figure out all this business of parenting, and Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. He had an ordinary upbringing but also was very, very unique.

Don’t treat each child the same way. Study the child. Pray for wisdom to understand your child, and deal with that child, nurturing him according to God’s will.

Well, now we get to the real difficult part that Mary had. After this incident in the temple we never hear from Joseph again. Now Joseph must have been around because they did have lots of other children, as we shall see in a moment, but we never hear from Joseph. Everything now falls into the lap of Mary. She has to take charge. There’s no doubt in my mind she was one tough woman. Simeon had predicted that a sword was going to pierce her heart, and that sword began very early on when Herod killed all of the male children in the environs of Bethlehem from two years of age and under, and he did this because he was trying to kill Jesus. So Mary knew immediately that this was happening because of her Son.

And then she lives through all of those controversies that we read about in the Bible regarding Jesus when the Pharisees throw it into His face and say, “We weren’t born of fornication,” implying He was. “We know your mother. She wasn’t married when she had You.” Mary had to listen to all of that. She had to endure it.

And then the fact is that there was controversy in the family. Now, in order for you to understand how many children they had, I am reading this directly out of the Bible. This is in Mark 6 in about verses 2 and 3. It says, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to Him? How can such mighty works be done by His hands?” And now notice it carefully. “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simeon? And are not His sisters here with us?” These are all half brothers – four for sure, and at least two sisters, because it’s mentioned plural. She was managing a household with Jesus as the oldest, and six other children. Can you imagine what that was like? “Who punched Simeon?” “James.” “I think it was Jesus that punched Simeon.” “Are you sure?” (sigh) “No, Mom, it wasn’t Jesus.”

I mean, He never lied. He never punched anybody out. He told the truth. He never stole anything, and He is this righteous older brother. And she’s managing this household and the Bible says that His brothers didn’t believe on Him, even when His ministry begins. Now that’s one I’m not going to turn to but you can write it down – the opening verses of John 7. They say to Him rather sarcastically, “Well, why don’t You go up to the feast and show the miracles You can do there, because if You stay here nobody is going to see these miracles,” and John says, “And this they said because even His brothers did not believe in Him.” And Mary has to manage this.

It gets worse. You’ll notice in Mark 3 we have a remarkable story, for evidently members of his family think that He is insane. You’ll notice starting in verse 20 it says, “Then He went home and the crowd gathered again so that they could not even eat, and when the family heard it they were out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He’s out of His mind.’”

“Here’s our brother and look at what He’s doing. He has all these large crowds. He is making all of these stupendous claims, and we know him because we ate with Him and we played with Him in the playpen. How can this be?” And they want to rescue Him from the crowd, which in later verses say that He is beside Himself because He has a demon.

So let’s pick up the story now a little later on. It says in verse 31, “And His mother and His brothers came.” They wanted to take Him. I don’t think that Mary ever doubted who her Son was, but who knows the role that she was playing in this controversy?  It says, beginning in verse 31, “And His mother and His brothers came, and standing outside they sent to Him and called Him. And a crowd was sitting around Him, and they said to Him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside seeking You.’ Does He say, “Okay, Mom, I’ll come over and talk with you and I’ll connect with my brothers?” No! “He answered them, ‘Who are My mother and My brothers?’ And looking about at those who sat around Him, he said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.’” Thank you very much.

Jesus kind of blows them off. They don’t understand, and Mary is there trying to navigate all of this tension that develops because this child was not only precocious; He was a divine child and He refused to fit the mold, and they didn’t know what to do with Him.

Now, of course, the sword finally enters into her heart and it’s the most sensitive place of who she was. When Jesus is being crucified Mary shows up. Again, Joseph is not in the picture. Virtually everybody (and I believe this to be true too) believes that Joseph died early on. He’s simply not a part of the picture. She has this blended family. She has this remarkable firstborn. She’s got at least six other kids.

And now Jesus is dying and she is there. She’d have gladly traded places with Him, but she knew that that wouldn’t have worked because He was the redeemer and she wasn’t. As a matter of fact, she also knew that she had to be redeemed by her Son, as the Magnificat indicates so clearly. It says, “I rejoice in God my Savior.” She also was a sinner who needed to be redeemed. And there she is. She could have gone to the authorities and said, “He’s insane; take Him down from the cross,” but she doesn’t interfere because she knows enough to know that the divine will is being accomplished there, but she’s there and she’s watching Him die an excruciating death, and none of His brothers, so far as we know, are mentioned as being anywhere around. And the mother bears the sorrow alone. The sword had come to her, and what a sword it was.

There are the joys of parenting, as well the challenges, exuberance, exhilaration and opportunity of parenting, but there is also a tremendous amount of sorrow that you sign up for oftentimes when you become a mother. Mothering is not easy.

What I’d like to do now is to wrap all this up by helping us understand three life-changing lessons that will be an encouragement not only to mothers, but to all of us ultimately, and to help us to understand the divine calling that God puts upon a single life – a single baby.

First of all, it’s very clear that motherhood is the highest calling. I’m sure that there’s not a mother listening today who doesn’t agree that parenting a child is important. Is it important? Oh yes, it is important. What they often don’t see is that it is ultimately important, massively important. Many don’t get that.

I realize, of course, that there are many mothers, because of tragic circumstances, who have to work outside the home - sometimes single moms, sometimes because of other reasons. There are also those who thankfully can work but they can work from within the home rather than outside the home. So it’s not my intention to load people with guilt. Every situation is different. What I’d like to be able to say is that those who are struggling, especially the single moms, may we as a church come together and stand with them and help them in the parenting process by the giving of ourselves, by representing family to them and being there for them. I can’t think of any job that would be lonelier than to be an adult with children and to come home and have no adult there to talk to.

God bless you single moms. But nonetheless I am going to read a passage from what a Selma Frabert wrote. “I worry about babies and small children who are delivered like packages to neighbors and strangers - to storage homes. In the years when a baby and his parents make their first enduring human partnerships, when love, trust, joy and self-evaluation emerge through the nurturing and love of human parents, millions of small children in our land may be learning values for self-survival in our baby banks. They may learn the rude justice of the communal playpen. They may learn that the world outside of the home is an indifferent world, or even hostile. They may learn that adults are interchangeable, that love is capricious, and that human attachment is perilous, and that love should be hoarded for the self in the service of survival.”

Again, I must say it, and you can receive it. Let me emphasize again that God’s grace covers all kinds of mistakes. But all the indications from the studies are that if that bonding of a baby and its mother is not a close loving secure bonding, the child will feel the effects of their inability to be able to bond permanently when they go into their marriage, and on and on it goes.

Mothering is not just important. It is supremely important, and you and your family have to figure out exactly what that means for you because it may look different in every home. But remember that God says, “This is My child. Rear him or her for Me.” There’s nothing more important than that.

Second, motherhood has its rewards. Oh, you’ve been waiting for that and you’ve been waiting patiently. You’re saying, “Where are the rewards?” The rewards of parenthood are often delayed. When Mary is there at the crucifixion of Jesus, that’s the best that Jesus can do to take care of His mom, but it must have warmed her heart. He said, “Woman, behold your son,” and pointed at John. “John, that’s your mother,” and the Bible says that from that moment Mary went into John’s home. John said, “Okay, I received the commission from Jesus to take care of you.” And I am sure that he took care of Mary for the rest of her life. So even there, there was a reward, and maybe this is a good opportunity for me to give you an assignment.

This week affirm to your mother how much she means to you. Rebuild that relationship. I can’t do that anymore. I used to always call my mother on Mother’s Day, and these days heaven is not taking my calls. Or find some other mother that needs affirmation and honor her. There are rewards to motherhood.

And then you know the story there of how Jesus Christ’s brothers did not believe on Him, and they’re saying, “Oh, you know, He’s out of His mind; let’s go seize Him?” How did that all end? Oh, my friend, that ended beautifully. It is there in Acts 1. We won’t take time to read it but it is there. In the Upper Room where they were waiting for the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the Church, the Bible says that Mary and His brothers were there in the Upper Room, and you know when it uses that phrase, it very frequently means sisters too. Brothers are used in a larger context and I could show that to you from Scripture, so in the end His brothers believe. And do you know what? The oldest of their natural children happens to be James, and James begins to lead the Church in Jerusalem. He writes a book in the New Testament by the name of James, and that’s where the book of James came from, the half-brother of Jesus.

Now, you know, I read this yesterday and smiled. If I had been writing that book what would I have written? I’d have written, “James, the half brother of Jesus,” and then I would have put in brackets, “I actually shared a bunk with Him when we were growing up.” I mean, James was the oldest of their siblings, apart from Jesus, who of course was the oldest but born of a different father. But no, he doesn’t. He just says, “James, a servant of God.” Why? It’s because the physical relationship was not the important thing. And you and I today can be called servants of God. We can be called daughters of God, and we can have an intimacy with Jesus, the same kind that James had even though he was the half brother of Jesus.

There’s something interesting in the Bible I’ll just throw in as a parenthesis. In First Corinthians 15, that great chapter on the resurrection of Jesus and how He manifested Himself, it says, “He appeared to Peter and He appeared also later on to James.” We’re not told which James it was. It could be James, the disciple (of Peter, James and John), but I tend to think that it might have been His own brother. And His own brother might have said, “To think that I grew up with Him, and He was the Messiah, and He was the Son of God. I believe on Him. I’m now a leader within the Church, and I even get to write a book that’s going to become a part of the New Testament.” It ended well.

Parents! Oh my heart goes out to you. I see the struggles even of our own children as they rear our grandchildren, with all the hassles and the things that go wrong, and you don’t know whether or not to discipline. You do your best but sometimes your best seems to be so woefully inadequate. You are tired. You are weary and you know that tomorrow is going to be a day just like this one. It’s very tough, but you look at it long-term and you say, “Wow! God used me with my imperfection.” You know a secret? God uses only imperfect parents, and the reason He does is it’s always God. It’s always God. That’s all He’s working with, and there have been those who haven’t been properly parented, and they turn out to be servants of God, and remember what I told you in the last message. Wherever you see sin you also see grace. You also see the redemptive aspect of God. We get our priorities right and our hearts right and we do our best in God’s good power as we yield to Him, and we might be surprised some day that the rewards of parenthood exist in the future even when we can’t see them now.

And what’s the “bottom” bottom line. Mary raised a Savior. We get the opportunity of raising children who love that Savior, who serve that Savior, whose hearts have been given to that Savior, and we’ll spend eternity together worshipping and praising God along with praising that Savior forever. And that’s whom it is that God gives you to parent, a child that lives forever, giving praise and honor to God. That’s our calling. What a privilege to raise a child for Jesus!

There is a story about a woman who was walking along with her baby in a blizzard, and because I wasn’t able to verify this story I won’t give you the name that I was given, but I verified this part of it. When she was discovered, she was dead because she had taken off all of her outer clothing and had wrapped her baby in that clothing, and the baby lived.

You know, that’s a picture of motherhood, but it’s also a picture of what Jesus did for us. He came and He saw us abandoned. He came and saw us in our need. He saw us under judgment and He came and He wrapped His love and His righteousness around us and saved us, and then He was raised from the dead and He went to heaven, and He’s going to return for us because He is the very wonderful Savior who saves us from our sins. Mary raised Him, but we get the privilege of raising those who will also worship and love Him.

Have you believed on that Savior, by the way? You can have the assurance that you belong to God forever. That assurance can be yours if you respond to what Jesus did on the cross and if you give your life to Him. I mentioned earlier that I was giving you an assignment. Part of it is to say thank you to some mom and encourage that mom, but there’s something else. I want you this week to lay hold of Isaiah 64:4. It’s only a snatch of a verse that you can hold on to. It says this, “God acts on behalf of all those who wait for Him.” If we pray earnestly and we wait on God, God acts on our behalf. He can change our family. He can change our hearts. He can transform us because God acts. That’s why prayer is so important on behalf of those who wait for Him. And we can raise that child for the glory and the honor of God. Let’s pray.

Father, despite the imperfection of our parents, the inconsistent discipline, the struggles and sometimes the rejection, we thank You today that we are here to testify to Your goodness in, through and in spite of human failure. Thank You that You use imperfect people. Encourage each, we pray, and for those who have never received Christ as Savior, we pray that You might enable them to do that. And may we look into the eyes of a child and say we are rearing that child, created in Your image, for Your glory. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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