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Our Big 7 Prayers for 2015 (Chris Francis)

On January 4th we began a new sermon series called “A CALL TO PRAY.”


Our hope is that we would be a praying church, a church that is utterly dependent on God’s grace and power in order to make things happen.


And for the first two weeks of this series we focused on “Our Big 7 Prayers For 2015” — specific things that we’re praying for regarding our church.


These Big 7 Prayers are what we want all our endeavors to be filtered through — how money is spent, outreach ideas, all the sermon series, etc. We want to always be asking the question, “Does this fall in line with our overall vision and our specific Prayers for 2015.”


Therefore, we are asking all those of you who call True Life your home church to join us in praying for these prayers. We are asking you to take ownership of our church by picking 2-3 of these prayers — the ones that really resonate with you — and commit to praying for them over the next few months.


Here is a brief summary of those Big 7 Prayers. To listen to the sermons in which we expounded on these prayers, click here:

1. That God would fill us with such awe of Him that we value and pursue Him more than anything else.  There is a difference between believing the right things about Jesus, and being so filled with awe of him that it drives us in everything we do. And that’s what we want — we want every ministry, team, and activity in our church to have as its top priority to fill our hearts with awe of Jesus and what he has done for us.


2. That we all embrace biblical Christianity instead of American Christian’sh’ness. We want to embrace and pursue the biblical Jesus, as a biblical church community….instead of the many silly versions of Christianity that exist within our culture.


3. That God would bless our marriages by showing each spouse where we need to repent. We are a church that is passionate about marriage because we know how precious marriage is to God and how much Satan wants to attack and divide spouses. But marriages need more than just communication skills and quality time. They need to address the sin in the hearts of each spouse.  The bible makes it clear that all of us are still dealing with indwelling sin, and therefore each spouse brings those sins into the marriage. So our prayer is that every spouse — whether their marriage is on the rocks or their marriage appears relatively healthy — is continually confessing their struggles with sin and repenting of those sins (turning from those sins and trusting more fully in God).


4. That Everyone Would Take Responsibility For Seeing Everyone Connected into Authentic Community.  We don’t want to play church. We don’t want to just have acquaintances with each other. We want to be in deep, authentic relationship with each other, where you know the real me and I know the real you and we are still committed to each other. And the only way that will happen is if those who are already connected take responsibility for seeing everyone else connected in.


5. That God would give us love for those whose sins offend us….and also the boldness to have awkward conversations to help each other grow.  Since the birth of our church, we’ve talked about being a church that is filled with grace for the hurting, the broken, the sinful. And everyone loves that idea…….until those sinners’ sins hit too close to home. Until their sin offends us. And then we have a hard time loving each other. But Christ called us to love each other as he has loved us (John 13:34) and that means we love others even when — or especially when — their sin is affecting us. That is Christ-like love.

But on the other hand, love doesn’t stop there. Jesus’ love for us is so great that he doesn’t just accept us where we are. He also wants to see us grow and turn from sin because sin robs us of peace and joy. And so we want to be a church that has the boldness to have awkward conversations to help each other grow and turn from sin.

Neither one of them is easy, and embracing both of them is especially difficult. And that’s why it’s a prayer. .


6. That God gives us the wisdom and courage to embrace Gospel-centered multiplication. We see all throughout nature that healthy things multiply. The same is true of the church. Healthy churches multiply. They give birth to new disciples, new leaders, new communities, new ideas, new volunteers. And as we head into year 3 of True Life Church, we feel it’s time to see an increase of multiplication in all facets of ministry.

But we must do it in a gospel-centered way  — where we are driven by a love for Christ and are willing to sacrifice relational security and relational comforts in order to see his glory and kingdom expanded.

7. That God would give us supernatural ideas to reach the geographic area that he has placed our church in. Jesus called his church the light of the world and a city on a hill (Matthew 5:14-16). This means that True Life Church does not  just exist for itself but for the surrounding towns and neighborhoods that our church community lives in. And so we want to be praying that God gives us big & creative ideas to be a light in those areas.


The Toddler Phase: True Life Chronicles – Part 8 (Chris Francis, based off a joke by Rigo & Mandy Mercado)

The apostle Paul likened the church to a human body (1 Corinthians 12), and as such the church is a living organism. It’s not just an organization, it’s not just a gathering, it’s a living organism that is given life by Jesus Christ.

Well, last night week Rigo and Mandy Mercado made some jokes about our church being in its toddler years, and they were pretty insightful jokes.

Let’s go back to the beginning.

In the spring of 2012, Relevant Church became “pregnant” with another church plant. A group of us began to form, meet, plan, pray, and raise money together. Relevant Church supported us in many ways, nurturing us while we were in the womb. We were all excited about what was to come in the life of this church that didn’t even have a name yet.

Then 10 months later we were “born” – having  our official launch on March 2, 2013.

For the first year it was really exciting as we explored the world as a new baby church. We were excited to get to know each other, excited about every new person who walked through through the door, excited about every new thing we tried.

Well, it’s been almost a year-and-a-half, and now we’re in the toddler phase.

And what do toddlers do? They learn to crawl, talk, walk, share, throw tantrums, and learn to use  the potty.

Rigo & Mandy & I were talking about the structures of our church and how they need to change as our church grows, but it’s sometimes hard to figure out how or when that needs to happen. And that’s when they made the insightful jokes about how we’re toddlers and it’s gonna’ be awkward.

It’s still exciting as we try new things, but now we’re getting more bumps and bruises and stumbling around as we grow. And that’s okay.

I love the phase that my 2-year old daughter Kayla is in. The occasional tantrums and pee-pee in the pants don’t bother me too much because I know it’s part of the package.

Well, I want to enjoy this bumbling and stumbling phase of our young church, too.

And remembering what toddlers do helps me do that.



The Importance of Church Tension: True Life Chronicles – Part 7 (by Chris Francis)

For whatever reason, the summer feels like a good time to think about and take another look at all the things we’re doing as a church and to consider if it is truly the best way to fulfill the mission that Jesus gave us in our unique context here on the Jersey Shore.

I’m doing it, and many people in our church seem to be doing it as well. I have a good-sized list of changes that folks have proposed — new ideas, new ministries, transitions of roles, improvements, etc.

I think it’s a great list.

The funny thing is, though, some of those ideas seem to oppose each other, which causes tension.

And that made me think about how tension is important in some cases. There are healthy tensions that our church should have in order to fulfill our vision. They are healthy tensions that should not be resolved or fixed.

A tension is when two desires or goals are pulling against each other. When both those desires are healthy, then it’s a healthy tension. Like if one spouse is a spender and the other spouse is a saver, it’s a healthy tension. It should not be resolved. Spending and saving are both important.

So at True Life, there are a bunch of healthy tensions that must be embraced rather than solved because….well, Jesus embraced tension and he calls his church to represent him.

Here are three that are on my radar right now:

1. We want to be a church where mature Christians (or Christians who think they are mature) are challenged in deep ways, while at the same time being a place where non-Christians and non-church people can feel welcome and included unconditionally.

In theory, I think most churches agree this is a healthy tension. But the natural tendency is to drift toward one and neglect the other.

So not only must we embrace this tension, but we must be intentional about keeping “the rope taut,” so to speak.

Jesus was great at attracting large crowds, and then calling those large crowds to follow him at all costs, which only a few did. He was hard on his disciples but seemed weak on prostitutes. He flipped over tables in the temple, but then hung out with tax collectors and drunks. People far from God loved him, and people who sincerely wanted to follow God sometimes found his teachings offensive.

So when it comes to our life groups, our Sunday morning gathering, our outreaches, and even the individual conversations that we have with each other, we must keep this tension in mind. Are we gearing all these things toward church people at the neglect of those new to the whole Jesus thing? Are we only comfortable with people who are at the exact same place in their spiritual journey as we are? Do people who don’t believe in Jesus even feel comfortable coming to our gatherings? Or are they weirded out?

Or on the flip side do we focus too much on making everyone feel welcome and get too passive about confronting issues that need to be confronted? Do we try too hard to keep things light rather than dig in and challenge each other in deep ways?

It’s an important tension. We can’t lose it.

2. We Need to develop structures to make things run smoothly, but at the same time allow things to be messy because messy situations help us grow in grace.

One of our policies is that we always have two adults scheduled for each of our kids classrooms on Sunday mornings. Our insurance company sort of forces us to have this policy, but we also think it’s a good one.

And we always background check those volunteers.

However, we do not have a policy about what to do when one of those volunteers has a felony on their background checks. Of course there are some felonies that are somewhat obvious (especially since there are laws about them), but there are other felonies that people might disagree about when it comes to serving in our kids ministry.

So the question came up recently — do we need a policy on this? Something along the lines of, “If someone has a these types of felony charges within the last ten years they can’t work with the kids.” That would probably keep it simple and safe and fair.

But we’re not going for simple and safe and fair.

Because the early church didn’t go for simple and safe and fair.

When Gentiles started placing their faith in Jesus, the Jewish Christians were a bit up-in-arms about it. And after much debate over whether or not a Gentile can even be a Jesus-follower, the apostles had a meeting that is known as the Jerusalem Council to determine which parts of the Jewish law those Gentiles should be expected to adhere to. At this meeting, it was decided that Gentiles who trust in Jesus should be expected to essentially do two things: be careful what they eat (that it’s not food sacrificed to idols or from a strangled animal)  and abstain from sexual immorality.

Just those two things. There was nothing about Sabbath days, festivals, pork and circumcision.

The result? Things got messy. As churches were established that contained both Jews and Gentiles, disputes arose. Expectations collided. Guys who were circumcised didn’t like the idea of Jesus loving the guy who wasn’t circumcised. It didn’t seem fair.

And what did the apostles instruct them to do in response to those conflicts? Altar the structures? Sometimes. But most of the time, they were told to do things like, “love each other, honor each other, be patient with each other, forgive each other as Christ forgave you.” Crazy stuff like that.

We decided not to have a policy for what to do with the kids worker felony deal. We’re going to have a lot of discussions instead.

We also don’t have a policy on what to do when a kid pulls down their pants in class (which has happened).

We also don’t have a policy for parents who bring noisy babies into the service. Many churches do. New moms like that we don’t have a policy. Including my wife. Other folks wish we had one. Like me.  That’s okay.

We’re gonna’ make policies from time to time. But we’re also gonna’ allow things to get a little messy becauses Jesus does some of his best work in our hearts through messes.

So this is another important tension that we must embrace.

3. We Need to Try to empower people to serve where they are passionate and gifted, while at the same time encourage people to fill needs in the church that they are not passionate and gifted in.

God has wired each of us with specific talents and gifts and passions so that we would, collectively, be the body of Christ. None of us can fully represent Jesus on our own. There are ideas that some people will come up with that I would never think of. There are people in our church who have unique experiences that need to be tapped into for the sake of others. We need to be faithful with all those things.

But at the same time, there are needs in our church that simply need to be met, regardless of whether people feel passionate or gifted in them. And we can’t always resort to over-spiritualizing everything by saying, “I just don’t feel called to do that.”

In my home, I take out the garbage, change diapers, and pick up dog poop. Am I passionate about any of them? Nope. Do I have a special talent for any of them? Just ask Jess. But I do them. Because I’m part of a family.

If our church community is really a family, then we will be willing to do things that feel a lot like taking out the garbage and picking up dog poop.

And we will put our calling to be part of this family over and above our calling to certain tasks.

So that’s another important tension that is on my mind right now.

Perhaps you can even think of other tensions that we should embrace. Share them. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

But more importantly, if you are part of True Life Church, will you join me in praying for our church in this regard? Will you consider the importance of certain tensions the next time someone disagrees with you about something?

Because tension can be good.

In the gym, tension stimulates growth.

In the church, well…’s the same thing.


– Chris



True Life Chronicles – Part 6

We say all the time that True Life church isn’t just about the Sunday services.  There are some ways that we GATHER (Sunday mornings, life groups, poker nights, spontaneous dinners) and there are many more ways that we SCATTER back out into the world to bring Christ’s love to various spheres of society (at our jobs, schools, and neighborhoods, etc.)

And to highlight the SCATTER aspect of it, I want to share a story that was emailed to me last week by a friend and fellow Alliance pastor who is also planting a church in Northern Jersey.

Check it out:


Part of my weekly schedule in this first year of church planting has me being intentional in my week about meeting the many Zacchaeus’ and Samaritan Women of our local community.  Sycamore trees and watering holes are all around.  God is calling me to spend time beside them.  I am currently in the process of joining the Hawthorne club of Rotary, Int’l.  It’s an international service organization represented in various towns across the country.  This past Wednesday at Rotary club I struck up a conversation with Manny.  He owns the big liquor store in town.  I told Manny about my appreciation for craft micro-brews, and the conversation began.  He was very intrigued I was a minister and asked if I was free the next morning to swing by his store and pub so he could give me a tour.  I told him I would see him at 9 a.m.
I showed up at 9 a.m. the next morning and Manny was glad to see me.  He gave me a tour of the store and pub (picture attached), and we talked a lot about various craft micro-brews.  Then he said to me…
“Curt, you seem like a very approachable kind of guy.  I grew up Roman Catholic but I no longer attend mass.  My wife met a friend a few years back and has been attending an evangelical Christian church from time to time with her friend.  We have a difficult time talking about issues of faith together.  Can I ask you some questions?”
We found ourselves starting to dive into conversation about family, faith and life.  And, he agreed to my request of stopping by his store each week so we can continue our conversation about our lives and Jesus.
Would you take a moment and pray for Manny and I?  Would you simply pray God would work in both of our hearts?  Thanks!



Now let’s all get back to our respective watering holes because the Manny’s are out there.

True Life Chronicles – Part 5

A few weeks ago I did a sermon out of 1 Peter 5:1-6 about the importance of Shepherding Each Other and Being Shepherded. 

I’m not going to go into the theology of it in this post (you can listen online to the message), but just to recap with one summary sentence: To call ourselves Christians means that we help to shepherd other people in their relationship with Christ, and that we also allow ourselves to be shepherded by other people.

Now how do we do that in a new church where not everyone knows each other very well and where everyone is really busy? That’s what we’re all still figuring out, but I want to throw out a few practical “tips” that I did not have time to cover two weeks ago.

These are tips on how to get the ball rolling with each other, which is often the most difficult part. Once the ball is rolling…..well, let the Holy Spirit continue to lead you.


1. If You Have a Conversation With Someone New, Be a Good Steward of that Conversation

A “steward” is a churchy way of of saying, “Be responsible with what God has put into your life.” So if you have a conversation with a new girl named Sally in the lobby before church, assume that you are having that conversation for a reason. Don’t think, “Well I’m sure Pastor Chris will end up talking to Sally and telling her about our church. I’m sure Sally will fill out one of those red cards and she’ll get into a life group.” Don’t do that.

Rather, ask Sally if she has any questions about the church. Ask about her story. Tell Sally about our life groups. Heck, tell Sally about YOUR life group.

2. Listen. Don’t Ask Weird Questions 

One of the most important parts about shepherding others is finding out where they are at in life and in their relationship with God. Don’t assume that everyone is where YOU’RE AT.

To continue with the Sally example — don’t ask Sally about her “testimony” or “when she came to know Jesus.” Sally may not know what a “testimony” is or even who Jesus is.

Get to know Sally first. Ask her about her…and listen.

3. Pray For Each Other

This may seem obvious, but church people are far more likely to say that they will pray for each other rather than actually take the time to do so.  So take the time — maybe in the morning, maybe on your way to work — to ask God, “Who are you putting on my heart today?” And then pray for those who come to mind. As we begin to pray for each other more and more, God may give us thoughts and words of encouragement to offer each other.

And that might lead to a phone call.

Which brings us to the next one……

4. When You’re Hurting, Make that First Awkward Phone Call

As we have gotten to know each other, it seems like a lot of us have felt comfortable inviting each other to parties and hang-outs. But I’ve noticed that, for the most part, we still have trouble making that phone call when we’re going through a hard time. We have a tendency to think that it will weird people out or that they will think less of us when they find out what we’re going through.

So that’s why I say – make the first awkward phone call. It will certainly be awkward, but that’s okay. Most people will be honored that you called them. They may not have any good advice, or they may give too much advice. But either way, it’s okay. As you grow in your relationship with that person, they will get better and better at being there for you in your rough times.

5. When You Think Someone Else is Hurting, Make that First Awkward Phone Call

If you notice that something is “off” with Joe, or if Maggie hasn’t been to life group in a few weeks and you get a weird sense about it, pick up the phone and call. Of course, if you never talked to Maggie about anything more than how your kid’s potty-training is going, this will be awkward. But again, that’s okay. Maggie will appreciate it. She may not open up to you right then, but she will appreciate that you were thinking about her and that you asked.

And it will make her more likely to do #4 in the future.

I know these are super practical and over-simplified. Each person in our life, and each situation, requires more prayer and a reliance on the Holy Spirit.

But in order for True Life to be the church that God has called us to be, we have to get this Shepherding Ball rolling.

True Life Chronicles – Part 4

I have read in many books a church-planting principle that goes something like thisUse Programs to build people, instead of using people to build programs.

I agree with this in theory. But in practice, it’s often more tempting to focus on programs because you can see the tangible progress of programs.

Programs are easier to control, easier to manage, and to be honest, often more rewarding — at least temporarily – than people are.

But people……well, you don’t always see the growth in people. You can’t always tell what is happening in their hearts. Progress is slow, it takes windy turns, and it’s often hidden beneath the surface for a while. And you sometimes don’t even know how to pray for people.

And yet, that’s what God has called us to. He said, “Make disciples” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Not discipleship programs.

And to make disciples, it requires relationships. Growing relationships that go deeper and deeper. And the deeper you go with someone, the more potential for conflict, confusion, and chaos with that person. And the more you have to apologize to them. 

I preach about this truth in sermons often. But I’m learning more and more that I don’t like it and have a tendency to avoid it.

I guess I’m a hypocrite in that way.


True Life Chronicles – Part 3

Well, a month ago I set out to write something every week about the new life of our church plant, and I failed already. I missed two weeks in a row.

But I have a good excuse — I didn’t feel like it. I was busy with day-to-day things, and I didn’t feel like stopping to think about what God is doing in our church. It didn’t seem too important.

And I think that’s something we all struggle with. We get so overwhelmed with the day-to-day tasks and problems, that we don’t stop to step back and ask God to show us the big picture. We even pray as if God is just taking our order, telling him what needs to be fixed and solved and taken care of. But we fail to stop and say, “Hey, wait a minute, God. What is going on today? What are YOU up to?”

Because he is always up to something. He is always at work, orchestrating and wooing and stirring and shaking and messing with things. Always. And I think he delights in us asking for a glimpse of it.

 Now granted, just because we ask doesn’t guarantee He will make things very plain and clear. But I think it’s at least good to ask the question and to wait for an answer.

For example, this past summer seemed to be an extra difficult season for quite a few married couples in our church (some have been dealing with on-going problems, and some were more short-lived conflicts).

And I’ve been praying for these couples based on whatever details I was told (some weeks this included my own marriage, especially in July).

But it wasn’t until Sunday night, after hearing from a few people within 24 hours, when I stopped and asked that question: “God, what’s going on? Are you up to something?”

And I started thinking about how we’ve been praying for the marriages at True Life since the beginning, and how marriages has always been a priority of ours. And then I started to wonder if God, in an answer to those prayers, has just been stirring things up. Like gold that is heated so that the impurities can come to the surface, perhaps that is what God is doing in these marriages right now — stirring things up, bringing out the ugly stuff and the fears and the bitterness that has been hidden deep down in our hearts. Perhaps this is a season of bringing it up so that it can all be addressed and confessed and healed and redeemed.

I don’t know.

But the point is, whatever you’re going through or dealing with, make a regular habit of picking your head up from your work, slowing down, pushing away from your busyness, and asking God, “What are you up to right now?” He may show you, and he may not. But at least you’ll be reminded that He is indeed up to something.

Because He always is.

And it’s always for the good “of those who love Him and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

True Life Chronicles – Part 2

This past week has had many highs and lows for me personally when it comes to this church thing. I’m gonna’ write about one of each, both of which occurred outside of Sunday morning.

The low happened last Wednesday. A few months ago Dan & Gina Sachowski, who are part of True Life, introduced me to a couple they are friends with whose 19-month old daughter was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma cancer back in April. She’s been in the hospital 90% of the time since then under-going chemo treatments, and will be in the hospital for at least another year for 90% of the time. I have talked to the mom and dad, but hadn’t met them face-to-face yet. I went up to Robert Wood on Wednesday to meet the father, Lou, and his little Gwen.

Now I’m not a hospital-visit kind of guy. I don’t normally jump at opportunities to go to hospitals to visit people, especially people I don’t know. But there was something about the conversations I had with this couple, plus the fact that I have a daughter who is little Gwen’s age, that compelled me to want to meet them.

I got there while Gwen was asleep, and I talked with Lou quietly about all the details of the situation. As I listened to him explain how they manage, what they’re dealing with financially, the difficulties of caring for their other two kids, my head started to spin. I tried to imagine going through what they’re going through, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t imagine having my daughter Kayla in the hospital 24/7 hooked up to all these tubes, having to go through 5 rounds of chemo in order to have surgery to remove a tumor in her abdomen. I couldn’t imagine not knowing exactly what the outcome is going to be. I couldn’t imagine barely ever seeing my wife because one of us has to always be at the hospital.

After about an hour, I prayed for them and then said goodbye. And I walked out of there feeling very small. Small because I’ve never known that kind of pain. Small because I couldn’t really offer anything all that helpful. Small because everything else that I needed to get done didn’t seem all that important, anymore. I just felt small in a very sobering, perspective-renewing kind of way. And it was good for me.

I also left wanting to spend more time with Lou. He’s a very likable guy, knows all the nurses names, very friendly, and very honest about how painful it is. Part of me wanted to stay around the hospital a little longer — not because I thought I could help them, but because I was so amazed at how this family is dealing with such pain with such dignity. I hope to spend more time with them.

So as heart-breaking as it was, I’m really glad I went.

Then a few days later I went to the Grand Opening of Decarlo Fitness, owned by Francisco and Michele Escalante (Michele’s maiden name is Decarlo in case you were wondering). And it was awesome to see a dream of theirs finally realized and to get to be there on their special day. And what made it extra awesome was seeing so many True Life people show up to support them, many of whom are new friends of theirs within the last year. True life has formal gatherings on Sunday mornings and during the week in life groups, but our hope from the beginning was that peole would gather and hang out informally during the week in many different ways, supporting each other in the day-to-day things of life. And Saturday was one of the ways that it got to happen — not because a service was being held, but because a couple stepped out in faith and started a business together.

That was really cool.

I’m glad I went there, too.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). 

True Life Chronicles – Part 1

Today is Sunday, July 28th, 2013. We have been fully “operational” for 5 months now, and I got home from our service today and got the urge to want to start chronicling – on a weekly basis – the life of True Life Church. My hope is that others will join me in the chronicling (meaning – I hope others will write posts like this one because I won’t feel like doing it every week).

I want to start writing about the ups and the downs of being a new church plant on the Jersey Shore — about the victories and the miracles and the lessons and the Check-out-what-God-did stories; as well as the conflicts, disappointments, and discouraging moments. And I want to be as honest as I can be about my own heart and what God has shown me and challenged me about.

Let me start with today.

Today we baptized five people. Five people — four of whom I didn’t know six months ago — were willing to get dunked in a strange-looking baptismal tank within a high school auditorium in order to publicly declare that their hope is in Jesus and that their hearts belong to him. That’s pretty exciting.

Another thing that was really awesome about today was all the other people who took ownership of True Life Church by helping to make the baptism happen. There was Roy and Lisa Young, another couple who I didn’t know six months ago. They helped me pick up the baptismal in their truck, took it home, dressed it up, cleaned it out and basically took care of all the set-up logisitics. Jim Mercadante, who flies around the country every week for business and is probably exhausted on the weekends, showed up early to help however he could with the set-up and then made sure all the baptizees got into the tank safely. His wife Anne-Marie was willing to take a bunch of photos and then spend hours touching them up the next day. Marissa Rubenstein, another new friend in recent months who is refreshingly honest about how she doesn’t believe everything we talk about, jumped up to take pictures for one of the women being baptized (someone who she doesn’t know at all).  Stan & Nancy Miszczenski, who both already do so much every week for our gathering, helped baptize two people (an engaged couple named Joe and Lisa who are part of their life group).

And that’s not to mention everyone else who did the normal weekly jobs of caring for infants & teaching kids & greeting & making coffee & cutting bagels & counting the offering & playing music & telling jokes & giving hugs.

So it was a good day.  Made me think that God’ s up to something.

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