How to Trust God When Things Get Hot (Dan 3)

Sunday, April 19th, 2009
Sermon Series: Daniel

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How to Trust God When Things Get Hot

Daniel 3

Have you ever had the flu?  Of course you have.  Life really gets miserable when the flu hits your house.  No one describes what the flu is like better than Dave Berry, who wrote, Living with the Death Flu.  He writes, “We have the flu.  If this strain has a name, it must be something like, “Martian Death Flu.”  The main symptom is that you wish you had another setting on your electric blanket, up past ‘HIGH’–one that says ‘ELECTROCUTION’.

“Another symptom is that you cease brushing your teeth because (a) your teeth hurt, and (b) you lack the strength.  Midway through the brushing process, you have to lie down in front of the sink to rest for a couple of hours.

“I spend a lot of time thinking flu-related thoughts.  One insight I’ve had is that scientists have been telling us the truth: air really is made up of tiny objects called molecules.  I can feel them banging against my body.  There are billions and billions of them, but if I concentrate I can detect each one individually striking my body, especially my eyeballs, at speeds upward of 100,000 m.p.h.  If I try to escape by pulling the blanket over my face, they attack my hair, which has become almost as sensitive as my teeth.

“There has been a mound of blankets on wife’s side of the bed for several days now.  I think it might be my wife, but the only way to tell for sure would be to prod it, which I wouldn’t do because if it was my wife, and she was alive, the prodding would kill her.

“Three or four times a day, I attempt to crawl 15 feet to the bathroom.  About halfway there I stop, get myself into the fetal position and pray for nuclear war.  Instead, I get Earnest.  Earnest is our dog.  Guided by the timeless nurturing instinct that all female dogs have, she tries to lick my ears off.

“For my son, Robert, this is the high point of his entire life.  He has the sense of joyful independence a five-year-old gets when he suddenly realizes he could be operating an acetylene torch in the coat closet and neither parent would have the strength to object.

“The Martian Death Flu has not been an entirely bad thing.  Since I cannot work or think, I have been able to spend more Quality Time with Robert.  Today, I taught him, as my father had taught me, how to make an embarrassing noise with your hands.  We shot rubber bands at the contestants on Divorce Court.  Then, just in case some parts of our brains were still alive, we watched professional bowling.

“Soon it was 3:30 p.m., time to crawl back through the air molecules to the bedroom, check on my wife or whoever that is, and turn in for the night.  Earnest was waiting about half-way down the hall. ‘Look at this,’ the police will say, when they find me.  ‘His ears are missing.’”

All of us can identify with being so sick, it becomes difficult for us to trust God.  How do you trust God, when your life is falling apart?  How can you trust the Lord when . . .

you’re about to be laid off?

your wife has left you with six kids?

you’re sick and getting worse?

the girl you thought you’d marry dumps you?

you break out with terminal acne before your first date?

the neighbor you’ve been praying for rejects Christ?

you’re forced to file for bankruptcy (chapter 11)?

your dad is about to die?

or, you discover you have cancer?

How do you trust God when life heats up?  All of us experience adversity in various forms and at different times.  One bestselling book put it very well with this simple opening statement– “Life is difficult.”  Adversity, and its accompanying emotional pain, comes in many forms.  There may be the heartache of an unhappy marriage, the disappointment of a miscarried pregnancy, or grief over a spiritually indifferent or rebellious child.  There is the anxiety over the family breadwinner who has just lost his job, and the despair of the young mother who’s learned she has a terminal illness.

Others here have experienced the frustration of dashed hopes and unfulfilled dreams, a business that turns sour, working-out all year, then being cut from the team, a career that never developed, grades that were too low for the scholarship, the sting of injustice or the dull ache of loneliness.  Still others of us have had to bear the pain of others–a parent’s illness that goes on and on for years, the child who never calls, the family member that never forgives, the friends who walk away, and so much more.  It’s easy to trust the Lord when life is going well, but what about when life gets hot?  How can we trust Him when everything goes wrong?

Turn to Daniel 3 for the answer–here we’ll find how to trust God when it gets hot.  You know the story, but let’s take a close look at how Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego trusted God when life was literally heating up.  And remember, a clear indication of your maturity as a Christian is to see how you respond to trials.  Nothing will show you your character, integrity and genuine relationship with Christ as well as a hot ordeal–a fiery furnace.

#1  The situation that demands trusting

Put yourself in their shoes.  Let me set the stage–Judah has been taken captive in three exiles. Daniel was taken in the first, so he writes to the Jews in captivity, chapters 1 to 7, and shows the sovereignty of God over their difficult situation.

The book follows a parallelism of literary style, with

Chapter 1 being the introduction of the remnant who didn’t compromise

Chapters 2 and 7 are the coming of four world empires, with the statue dream and four beasts

Chapters 3 and 6 are God’s protection of the remnant, with the fiery furnace and lions’ den

Chapters 4 and 5 are God’s judgment on the Gentile nations for rejecting God and abusing Israel, with Nebuchadnezzar’s pride and writing on the wall

The apex of the first seven chapters is the end of chapter four, where Nebuchadnezzar himself proclaims that the God of Israel is the only true God, the one in sovereign control.  Do you remember Nebuchadnezzar’s dream from the previous chapter, Daniel chapter 2?  Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar that he, Nebuchadnezzar, was the head of gold of this gigantic statue, representing the entire Babylonian empire.

Human beings are so religious we will make idols out of anything.  So look what Nebuchadnezzar does in verse 1, “Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, the height of which was sixty cubits and its width six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.”  Picture this scene–you’re standing on a huge flat plain called Dura that extends for miles so everyone can see a gigantic statue, nine feet wide and ninety feet tall, completely covered with gold.  Picture it–the face on the statue is of Nebuchadnezzar.  The statue is Nebuchadnezzar, the absolute monarch and dictator of the world.

What is Nebuchadnezzar doing?  Look at verse 2-7, “Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent word to assemble the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. 3 Then the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces were assembled for the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 4 Then the herald loudly proclaimed: ‘To you the command is given, O peoples, nations and men of every language, 5 that at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe, and all kinds of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up. 6 But whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire.’ 7 Therefore at that time, when all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe, and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations and men of every language fell down and worshiped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.”

Nebuchadnezzar has conquered the world, and in order to bring unity to the many conquered lands, he gathers all the world leaders together on this big flat plain and calls them to show their allegiance to him and his gods in one gigantic act.  Plus Nebuchadnezzar wants their worship.  Do you think he had a problem with pride?  “Worship me!”–and I know you’re all feeling pretty good about yourselves right about now, cause you don’t make others worship you.  But we do battle with false worship, we do battle with idolatry.

It could be:

Plenty–I have all I need, so why do I need God?

People–I delight in my child, friend, or spouse, so why delight in God?

Pleasure–feeling good is my goal, so why do I need God?

Prominence–I desire to be noticed, so why should I be showing off God?

At the same time now, Nebuchadnezzar reminds the three of the consequences of rebellion–instant death by fire.  So at the appointed time, a brightly-colored herald announces the requirement of worshiping the image when the orchestra begins to play.  Picture the opening ceremonies at the Olympics, with music and splendor–the Olympic flame is on a tower like a gigantic statue.  Over the loudspeaker the announcement is made, and when the music plays the entire field crowded with athletes from all over the world falls down on their face and worships the Olympic flame.  This was an incredible scene, with tremendous pressure for failure to do so meaning being burned to death.  But there on the field, barely visible because of the vast number of people present, are three who are still standing–three don’t bow down, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego.  Picture it—three are left standing.

In verses 8 to 12, it tells us the Chaldeans (the powerful priest advisors Daniel was now elevated above after he interpreted the dream in chapter 2), the ones who used to run everything, were looking and decided to fink on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.  Like a jealous little brother, watch what they do–in verses 12 to 13 they tattle to Nebuchadnezzar, “There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon, namely Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego [jealousy]. These men, O king, have disregarded you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up. 13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego; then these men were brought before the king.”

The king is enraged–his plan for unity isn’t working.  The ceremony stops, all eyes are upon Nebuchadnezzar as the three are brought before him.  Daniel is not there.  Most believe he’s out of the country on the king’s business, or as the prime minister he doesn’t have to bow.

You can tell that Nebuchadnezzar likes these three–he respects them, since he doesn’t immediately toss them in the furnace, but he asks them whether it is true or not, that they didn’t bow down.  I believe Nebuchadnezzar saw through the motive of the Chaldeans.  So Nebuchadnezzar gives them a second chance to bow down with a warning in verse 15, “But if you will not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire, and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?”  (Just one little bow–what harm could that be?)

What would you do?  This situation is do or die.  This is life at its hottest–how can you trust God when your life gets this intense?  Some of you are going through it right now.  How can you trust God when all of life has turned against you—it’s unfair, wrong, hurtful, or painful?

#2  The steps that lead to trusting

I find five steps here (not in order) that will help you when life heats up and becomes overwhelming–five truths that result in trusting.

Step 1  Take little sins seriously–don’t compromise in little things

If you’re like me, you’ve probably wondered how Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego stood, when all others fell down to worship.  How did they pass this big test?  Answer:  because they already passed the little tests.

Remember chapter 1?  Shadrach, Meshach & Abed-nego didn’t compromise, they didn’t give in on a little thing, even a menu item.  They refused to eat the king’s choice food because the Bible told them not to.  Hundreds of others failed that test, but these three with Daniel did not.  They refused to compromise on a little thing, and because of that they were ready when they were hit with the test on the big thing.  They took little sins seriously; therefore they were ready to stand against a major compromise.  They refused to disobey a little law out of Leviticus, which made them ready to not disobey the first two commandments in Exodus 20.

We used to have a drainage pipe in our backyard that went out to the street to keep our yard from flooding.  It had a grate on top, which kept big junk (like balls, toys, dogs and kids) from going down the drain, but it didn’t prevent the little leaves or small trash from going through the grate when hosing off the deck.  Then one winter when it rained for five days straight, we were flooded because those little leaves and small pieces of paper had clogged up the pipe, preventing the water from draining out.

It’s the same for the Christian–the little sins that are not dealt with, and those small compromises will clog our relationship with our Father.  Then when the storms of trial come, we will be out of fellowship, not empowered, not trained in holiness, and not disciplined to respond rightly.  We will not be ready to trust, since intimacy has broken down.

In Psalm 101:2b David says, “I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart.”  King David is saying I have no secret sins of bitterness, lust or anger–I will keep my walk with God up-to-date, even when no one is looking.  In order to trust the Lord during the hot trials, Ecclesiastes 10:1 says, “Dead flies make a perfumer’s oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor.”  As a little fly can spoil the oil, so it can’t make a sweet perfume–so a little unconfessed/unrepentant sin can spoil a life.

What little sins are you hanging on to–sins of gossip, or attitudes, or apathy, or anger?  If you refuse to confess and repent of them, you will be like the frog in the beaker, unaware that slowly the heat is rising until it finally dies.  Are you one who, because of not taking little sins seriously, fails or falls in a big way later?

In order to trust the Lord when it gets hot/tough, we must keep our walk with the Lord up to date, daily confessing even little issues, walking through life with a repentant, dependent, yielded attitude.

Step 2  Daily demonstrate your commitment

Look at verse 16, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter.”  And I say, why not?  Because Nebuchadnezzar had already seen their commitment—he knew who they served.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego had already demonstrated that they followed the one true God.  They had established a pattern of loyal allegiance.

I’ve traveled a lot, and try to use my time on the plane to study.  If possible, I try to get an empty seat next to me and spread out my Bible and study helps.  If I am going to be gone for more than a day, I try to bring an 8×10 picture of Jean, and one of the family.  One time I had my books out, and as I was rearranging my carry-on I took a big photo out–and just as I did, this attractive stewardess stopped by and said, “Who’s that?”  I said, “This is the love of my life, and the two smartest boys in the world.”

She smiled and said, “That is so refreshing to hear.”  I said, “Why is that?”  She said, “Because most of the men we deal with end up taking their wedding rings off in order to make passes at us as we serve them.”  If you’re going to trust the Lord when life heats up, you’ve got to keep your ring on.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, and an act of your will, you need to decide who you are married to and live accordingly.

If you’re engaged to Jesus, then show it by your loyalty to Christ in your everyday life.  When someone asks you why you don’t lie, tell them about Christ.  When they ask where you go on Sunday, tell them to worship Christ the Savior.  When they ask why you sing, tell them Who you sing to.  When they ask how come you’re always smiling, tell them Who makes you smile.  When someone asks you why you don’t do certain things, don’t make up a lame excuse, keep your ring on and tell them about the greatest love of your life.

It would have been so easy for Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego to have come up with some excuse which would have hidden their true motive–but they didn’t, because they had already established a pattern of loyalty to their God.  Jesus said in Mark 8:38, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”  You will trust the Lord during the big tough times when you demonstrate your commitment all the time in small ways.  Trusting the Lord when it gets hot comes when we . . .

Step 3  Focus on God’s overall plan

Look at verse 17, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.”  Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego’s focus was upon the plan of God.  Their focus was service to Him.  They knew God would deliver them even if they died.  Their focus was upon His overall will, not so much on His will for their specific lives–that’s why they could trust Him when it got hot.

So often we are caught up in God’s specific will for our lives—you know:

Where should we live?,

How many kids should we have?

Where should I go to college?

What classes should I take?

Who should I marry?

Where do I send my kids to school/home school?

Should we move?

Those are all good questions, but we can over-emphasize His will for me and forget that God not only has a will for my personal life, but He also has an overall will, a larger plan that stretches across all of history.  God’s plan for us, who are made in His image, is to show Him off, to demonstrate His character, for Him to live through us so others might see Him in all we do–even eating and drinking to bring Him glory.

When life falls apart, often the reason we don’t trust the Lord is we get caught up with:

Why is this happening to me?

What purpose does this have in my life?

Why are you allowing this to happen to us Lord?

We don’t trust because our focus is upon God’s personal will for me, instead of His overall will.  The way we learn to trust Him during the hot times is to focus upon what He has already called us to do–to let Him shine through us, display his character, show Him off to both the saints and the ain’ts . . . instead of trying to answer the questions of why this illness, why this pain, why these circumstances, why this injustice, why now?

Give yourself to Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and delivered Himself up for me.”  As I Peter 2:9 says, “You were saved in order to proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”  Instead of focusing on the trial, we trust when we focus on how to show off the Lord during the trial.

If you have played any team sport, you know how this works.  I love football, and often wondered why the linemen would kill themselves in the game, even though they never got to make a touchdown.  Just ask them why, and they’ll tell you (as they did me).  “I want our team to be number one, if I’ve got to play nose guard to get us there–then I’ll play nose guard.”

God has an overall plan–to display His Son through us.  In order for that to happen, we need to be willing to sacrifice our questions, our wants, our will so that God’s will is accomplished.  It’s so exciting to see Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego committed to serving God–showing Him off, sharing Him, regardless of the consequences, regardless of their own questions, needs or fears.

Where are you?  If you’re going to trust the Lord when life gets hard, it will only be when you are willing to ignore God’s specific will for you, and focus on God’s overall plan for this planet to make Him known through you.

Step 4  Remember who’s in control

Look at verse 17, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.”  If you’re going to learn to trust God during dark times, you must remember God is able.  Our Father can do anything–He’s in charge of your circumstances.  God is in control.

Turn over to Lamentations 3:37-38–it is found right after the book of Jeremiah, who wrote Lamentations.  In this letter, describing the destruction of Jerusalem by king Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah says in verses 37-38, “Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? 38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?”  (Another version says, “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?”)  This truth bothers many believers.  Many find it difficult to accept the fact that both calamites and good things come from God.

Yet in John 19:11 Jesus said to Pilate, who was about to crucify Him, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above.”  Even Jesus acknowledged God’s sovereign control over his life, even with calamity–even with crucifixion and death.

Learning to trust when it’s really hard comes when we remember God is able–He is in control. Instead of trying to answer why, trust comes when we put our lives in His hand.  When my boy was small and went walking with me, if the trail got rough, he would put up his hand and grab hold.  If it was impossible, he would just hang there until I lifted him beyond it.  We will learn to trust when we look and say, “This is too rough, Lord–you’re in control here, take me through.”  Through prayer and the study of the Word of God, we can depend totally on His control.

But you say, “Nothing will change my spouse . . . my boss will never give me a break . . . my parents are awful . . . there is no way I can endure the pain . . . this is just too tough”–wait!  He is able!

Step 5  Rest in your relationship

We’ll learn to trust Him when we love Him merely for who He is, and not just for what He gives us.  Look at verse 18, “But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”  But even if He does not, they didn’t know what God was going to do.  They didn’t know whether He’d rescue them or not.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego didn’t trust in what God would do or not do, they trusted in God Himself.  They rested in their relationship with Him.  There was something more important than life–who they served.

They trusted when it got hot, because they were not looking at whether it would work out or not, or whether circumstances would get better or not.  They were able to trust Him when it was life or death, because their focus was on their relationship with God, just Him, not what He would do.  Their faith was not for what they could get out of it–to get business contacts, to feel good about themselves, to relieve their guilt, but for God Himself.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego were not fair-weather friends of God.  You know what that is.  When you were a kid and asked a friend to come over for dinner, and they said, “It depends on what you’re having.”  That’s a fair weather friend.  A fair weather friend is one who is your best buddy during the winter cause you’ve got a condo at Mammoth, but dumps you during the summer for the friend with the beach house.

Are you one of God’s fair-weather friends?  When things are going right, do you spend extra time in the Word?  Go to church?  Spend time in prayer?  But then things go a little wrong, you bail out?  Or the opposite–life goes well, so you ignore Him.  But when life goes wrong, then you cling (that’s most of us).  You will learn to trust during the hard times, when you learn to love Him just for who He is, no matter what He gives or doesn’t give.

A little boy drowned in his backyard pool.  He was found, given mouth-to-mouth and began to breath.  But because of the length of time without air, he experienced some brain damage, and became mentally challenged.  Taking him from doctor to doctor, his parents found one expert who felt he could gain back 80% of his mental and physical losses if they would buy some expensive and technical machines.

They did, converted their garage, and began working with their son four hours a day.  The progress was incredible.  Encouraged by the love of his parents, he began to speak words, then sentences and even regained his physical coordination.  Suddenly his progress stopped.  No matter how much his parents pleaded, he became distracted with the machines.  His relationship with his father was side-tracked by his focus on the machines.

Christians can get so distracted by the routine and externals of their faith–going to church, taking classes, saying words—losing sight of their relationship with Jesus.  They lose their first love.  Trust only happens when God becomes our love–not what He gives, not what He can do, just Him.  When your only desire is to experience Him, you’ll trust Him all the more, no matter what happens.  Focus on Him.

#3  The summary of trust

After telling the king what they wouldn’t do, verses 19 to 23 tell us the king was filled with so much wrath that he ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter.  He commanded his valiant warriors to tie them up and cast them in the fire, which was so hot it killed the men who tossed them in.

I like the fact that the three were dressed appropriately for this big event–they were not defiant but submissive, as far as they could be.  But verse 21, they tossed them in the fire with their best clothes on.  If Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego had been killed in the furnace, they would still have been rescued by God for all eternity.  They would have lost little and gained everything.

But as you know, in verse 24ff, I believe the Lord Jesus Christ, in a pre-incarnate form, came to visit these three in the furnace and said, “Let me untie those ropes and let’s take a walk in the fire.”  Jesus said, Hebrews 13:5 “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.”  He’ll be there in the toughest, hardest, hottest times.  Jesus will never leave us.  We don’t need to be afraid of any test, affliction, pain, trial–even death.

This sight was so overwhelming, Nebuchadnezzar came near to the furnace and called for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego to come out.  When they did, they didn’t even smell of smoke.  Look what happened as a result of their trusting God when it got hot.

First  God received praise from a pagan king

Look at verse 28, “Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God.’”  God receives glory when we trust Him.

When people show they hate God, but you stand up for loving Him; when others trash their spouse, but you adore your mate; when some rip on the Church, but you express affection for yours, you are praising God too.

Second  The three were used as a witness to the greatness of the one true God before the entire watching world

Don’t forget who is watching this event.  All the leaders of the known world had gathered to show their loyalty to Nebuchadnezzar, and God used it to clearly demonstrate who was really in control.  Christian, you are being watched all the time, and if you are truly born again, you are changed, transformed, with a whole heart, life and affections—that is a miracle as dramatic as the furnace.  Don’t hide the fact that you are a new person, and share often with others, what you would have been if it were not for Christ having saved you.

Third  God was feared and God’s people protected because of their trust in Him

Look at verse 29, “Therefore, I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.”  Because of their willingness to trust the Lord, God was feared and God’s people were protected.

Fourth  God blesses those who trust Him

Look at verse 30, “Then the king caused Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego to prosper in the province of Babylon.”  How do you trust God when it gets tough?

Take little sins seriously,

Live your commitment,

Focus on God’s overall plan,

Remember who’s in control, and

Rest in your relationship with Jesus first of all.

Of course, if you have not turned to Christ as Savior and Lord,

If you have not put your entire life in His hands,

If you have not turned from your sin,

Then you will not be trusting Christ when it’s hot.

If you are trying to trust in your own strength,

If you’re more interested in appearing spiritual than being spiritual,

If you are driven by external show and not internal spirit dependence,

Then you will not be trusting Christ when it’s hot.

Will you trust Jesus when He turns up the heat?


ABOUT THIS PREACHER

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church – Murrieta.

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