The Path To Forgiveness

The Path To Forgiveness

In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26 NIV).

Perhaps one of the most difficult things we are called upon to do as Christians is to forgive others.  We all tend to be quick to ask forgiveness from God for our sins but slow to forgive others that have hurt us. 

In the Methodist church the congregation recites these words prior to Holy Communion.  “Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.  We have failed to be an obedient church.  We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors.”  We have indeed failed to be an obedient church and not loved our neighbors when we fail to do as instructed in the Lord’s Prayer,forgive them that trespass against us” (Matthew 6:12).

I know I have hurt others just as others have hurt me.  Some of the offenses against me have been so severe that by myself I am unable to forgive, but through the power of the Holy Spirit I have been able to do what I cannot do alone.  I recall a sermon years ago in which the pastor said, “As you forgive those that have hurt you, the prisoner that is set free is yourself.”  Amen! 

Those that hurt us are often wounded people themselves.  We will inevitably encounter some people in life that knowingly choose to do evil things to other people.  In the book Forgiveness, the Passionate Journey Nine Steps of Forgiving through Jesus’ Beatitudes by Flora Slosson Wuellner, the author writes that some people are “caught in a prison of self-destruction that almost defies description.”  I had not realized that often when people deliberately hurt us they are acting out of a deep inner hurt in themselves.  Hurt people tend to hurt people.  Instead of giving emotional control to our attacker by feeling angry and seeking revenge, we are asked to consider feeling pity and wonder what has happened to this person that has caused them to act in such an evil manner?  This is not done to minimize the hurt, but to facilitate our healing.

There are many paths to forgiveness.  Sometimes it may be appropriate to tell the person directly that you forgive them.  However, it is important to realize that they may not realize that they have hurt you and may not care.  Another option is to ask the Holy Spirit to soften your heart and help you forgive the other person but do not tell the other person that you have forgiven them. 

Forgiveness should be done as a spiritual practice to honor and glorify God.  It is tempting to use forgiveness as an opportunity to rightly or wrongly play the victim, demonize the other person, and solicit public sympathy through social media or other outlets.  This is not true forgiveness and does little to honor God, yourself, or the other person.  Perhaps a better option for forgiveness is similar to what the Word teaches us for prayer.  “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:6).

Any discussion of forgiveness usually involves forgetting.  The phrase “forgive and forget” is not found in the Bible. However, there are numerous verses commanding us to “forgive one another” (e.g., Matthew 6:14, Ephesians 4:32). A Christian who is not willing to forgive others will find his fellowship with God hindered (Matthew 6:15) and can reap bitterness and the loss of reward (Hebrews 12:14–15, 2 John 1:8).  Speaking of social media, Beth Townsend, founder of Life on Purpose, posted the following on Facebook recently.  “Forgiveness is a perpetual state of mind.  A choice.  If God can forgive and then forget, we can too.  That is true freedom!”  Now, that will preach!

Forgiveness is a journey and a process and often takes time. The process is more difficult as the offense is perceived to be more personal or severe. If you are showing signs of increased criticism, negativity, and impatience, you are still on the journey.  Unforgiveness also hurts our relations with others due to our sour disposition, depressed attitude, and tendency to easily be annoyed.  The hurt becomes water under the bridge when we achieve forgiveness.  We then release the other person from the debt and no longer desire payback for the offense. We acknowledge that the hurt is real, but we also understand that our struggle is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12).  Forgiveness may or may not lead to reconciliation, but it certainly leads to freedom and a closer walk with our Lord.

Prayer:  Thank you for the blessing of forgiving our sins and life everlasting in a life lived in and for you.  Forgive us when we fail to be an obedient church.  Help us to forgive those that hurt us.  By the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to be reconciled to you and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  Amen.

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Am I Forced To Condone Or Condemn?

todd shupe

Am I Forced To Condone Or Condemn?

todd shupe

“Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’   ‘No one, Sir,’ she said.  ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’” (John 8:10-11 NIV).

 

Division in society has been around since the enemy came as a serpent into the Garden of Eden to cause division between humanity and God, and the consequences linger to this day.  The church universal is stronger when it is united and when that unity is focused vertically to wordship God and horizontally for evangelism and discipleship of the Body of Christ (others).  The enemy certainly is aware of the tremendous power and potential of the bride of Christ and seeks to hurt our unity and hinder our evangelism and discipleship.  The Word in John 10:10 warns, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy….”  That warning is as valid today as it was years ago.

We all see division in society today in all forms.  Many people live and attend churches that are divided along racial, ethnic, and socio-economic lines.   I see great value in healthy discussion and polite disagreement in the areas of politics, religion, and social issues.  The Church has an invaluable role to play in championing social justice, while being mindful of its primary mission of the Great Commission.  Inevitably and sadly, when it comes to social issues inside the Church, we typically assume a contemporary, secular approach rather than a Christ-like approach. 

A current social issue in the church, particularly my denomination of United Methodist, is how to properly address the issue of homosexuality.  Of course, there are two schools of thought on the issue and both sides have been very clear on their position, which is fine.  What is not fine, is that both sides tend to focus inward to condone each other on their “team” and then focus outward to condemn those that are not like-minded. 

It has recently gotten to the point that a clergy member posted a video on a private Facebook page for clergy of a highly non-traditional church service featuring a drag queen talking to children and simply asked his peers, “Are you OK sanctioning a highly non-traditional worship service as a representative of the UMC?  Looking for a simple yes or no.  Edit to clarify: This is a poling question. Nothing more and nothing less.”  The clergy member that asked the question was immediately condemned by others that supported the service because he simply asked a question.   We can no longer have civil discourse and polite disagreement on social issues without somebody being offended and condemning somebody.  That is sad.  We as a society and as the Church universal have failed to live out Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world…”

I feel this begs the question – What would Jesus do?  We do not need to wonder because our Lord and Savior has already shown us another option when He encountered the adulterous woman at the well (John 8:1-11).  He did not condone her sin, nor did He condemn her.  He offered her grace and left her with these wise words that still resonate true to this day — Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” 

This woman had led a sinful life, but Jesus was not concerned with her past, but was focused on her future.  He called her to a higher standard of living.  A standard that involves repenting from our sin and living a Christ-centered life rather than a self-centered life .  Jesus knew that sin was sin and it separates us from God and leads to death.  As modern Christians, we too are called to the same standard as the woman.  Jesus is telling us today, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Sadly, many do not want to repent from their sin but rather want others to join their effort to condone their sinful behavior and move the activity from the sin category, as defined by Scripture, to the ok category, as defined by society.

I think we spend too much time trying to lobby others to “reclassify” what God has clearly already classified as sin because we are “wiser” than Him, or we live in a new age and have new insight and perspective.  Yes, God gave us experience, tradition, reason, and personal feelings to aid us to interpret Scripture.  However, the caveat is that when any of those conflict with the Bible, they must be dismissed in favor of Scriptural authority.  I feel that 2 Timothy 4:3 was written for times such as these.  “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”

On the other hand, if somebody has a different interpretation of Scripture than mine, I acknowledge that perhaps they are right.  However, I certainly don’t think it serves the Kingdom for me to condemn them because we differ.   We are all Christians and we hurt the Kingdom when we condemn each other.  Jesus did not condemn the adulterous woman so why should we condemn fellow Christians because we disagree on a particular social issue?  Romans 8:1 reads, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

All Christians are in Christ Jesus, but all Christians will never agree on various social issues.  I would love to see the time, money, passion, and energy that is spent on disagreement over social issues to be spent on evangelism and discipleship. 

Prayer:  Dear God, Forgive us for spending time and money on issues that do not bear good fruit and do not honor You.  By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at His heavenly banquet.  Amen.

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Who Is Your Authority?

Who Is Your Authority?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.   He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.   In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-5, 14 NIV).

 

There is a long history of division and unrest in the Church.  Many of the Epistles of the Apostle Paul addressed division and sinful lifestyles.  So, current division certainly falls into the category of there is nothing new under the sun.

The Church is the bride of Christ and at its best has the potential to do even greater things than Jesus did (John 14:12).  The enemy knows of the power and potential of the Church and seeks to introduce issues into the Church to divide, deceive, and destroy.  So, the Church at its worst will focus its efforts and resources inwardly on issues that will not bear good fruit nor facilitate evangelism and discipleship.  The teaching of the Apostle Paul on this topic is still relevant today.  “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels” (2 Timothy 2:23).

I understand the value of social issues and appreciate the fact we all have different opinions.  Diversity of thought is healthy and necessary.   I recently had a nice visit with a good friend regarding a contemporary social issue.  He told me that he had a problem with me and my position.  My response, was, “Brother, you and I don’t have any problems.  However, it appears to me that your issue is with God because you don’t like parts of Scripture that are contrary to your personal beliefs.” 

Different people can read the same Scripture and have different interpretations.  I have read the same Scripture over the years and sometimes come away with a new revelation about God, myself, or others.  These new revelations happen because “the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it pierces even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).  As I gain new insight from Scripture, I realize that the Word has not changed, but by inviting the Holy Spirit to be present and teach me as I read, my understanding may change.  1 Peter 1:25 reads, “… but the Word of the Lord endures forever.

I have talked to some people that have told me they understand what the Bible is teaching but based on their personal opinion they reject the Scripture.   Sadly, they are our rejecting our Lord when they reject Scripture.  Matthew 10:32-33 reads, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.  But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).  The Apostle Paul also warns against the perils of denying Christ.   “If we disown Him, He will also disown us” (2 Timothy 2:12).

When we reject God, we do so in favor of personal autonomy.  Dennis F. Kinlaw was a Wesleyan-Holiness Old Testament Scholar and former President of Asbury College.  He wrote, “Satan disguises submission to himself under the ruse of personal autonomy.  He never asks us to become his servants.  Never once did the serpent say to Eve, I want to be your master.  The shift in commitment is never from Chris to evil; it is always from Christ to self.  And instead of His will, self-interest now rules and what I want reigns.  And that is the essence of sin.”

Our goal as Christians is not to try to attempt to convince others to reclassify what God has already classified as sinful behavior.  Rather our goal is to embrace our inherent need for the Word as stated in 1 Peter 2:2. “Like newborn infants, desire the pure milk of the word, so that you may grow up into your salvation.”  I struggle with my sins, but I think it is in my best interest to grow in my salvation to partner with the Holy Spirit and the Body of Christ to repent and turn from my own wicked ways.

It is certainly possible to read the Bible and not get anything out of it. You need certain keys to unlock Scripture. One of those keys is accepting its authority and understanding its Author.  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,  so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  The Bible says it’s God’s Word: “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the Word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the Word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).  There is no need to challenge the Word because, “Every word of God is flawless (Proverbs 30:5). 

One of the reasons why there is so much confusion in the world today is because people are listening to so many different authorities, and everybody’s asking, “Who’s right?”

Whether you realize it or not, you have an authority for your life. It’s what you use to make your choices.  Your authority may be yourself, society, etc.

There are four unreliable sources of authority that people often use instead of Scripture.

  1. Culture (Experience). People who follow this authority source say, “But everybody’s doing it.” Yet Exodus 23:2 warns against it: “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong.”
  2. These people say, “But we’ve always done it that way!” Jesus told some of the religious people of his day: “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions” (Mark 7:8).
  3. This unreliable source says, “Well, it seems logical; it seems rational.” But Scripture warns against using our intellect as our authority source: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 16:25).
  4. Personal feelings. Throughout the United States you’ll find people saying, “I believe it because I feel it.” But the Bible tells about a time when the world was in anarchy because of this attitude: “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

The four sources above are all inwardly focused and have some value. However, the caveat is that when any of those are in conflict with the Bible, they must be dismissed in favor of Scriptural authority.  I encourage you accept the Bible as the final authority for every issue in your life.  When you accept that authority, you’ll start to get more out of the Bible and be obedient to the first part of Proverbs 3:6 “in all your ways submit to Him.  The benefit of submitting to God is contained in the second part of Proverbs 3:6, “and He will make your paths straight.”   

Prayer:  Dear God, Forgive us for the times that we reject your Word as the final authority in our lives.  Help us to not only accept your Word but to spread the Good News contained in your Word to all that we meet.  Amen.

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Who Are You?

Who Are You?

“In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will” (Ephesians 1:11 (NIV).

 

Years ago, I did a Bible study based on the 307 questions in the Bible that Jesus asked.  Each one offers us the opportunity for self-reflection and growth.   I think these questions are particularly profound because they give us a greater insight into Jesus and ourselves. 

As I think about all of the questions asked by Jesus, my mind is drawn Matthew 16:13-17.  “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to Him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”

I think the first question is important because it reminds us that others may have an incorrect understanding of Jesus. (Note:  If somebody has an incorrect understanding of Jesus, they will not be able to have a proper understanding of themselves or others.) Our relationship with Jesus is personal and should not be based on the opinions of people that don’t truly know Him.  Yes, we are called to love others and be in community with others but our relationship with God is one on one.

The second question is critical – Who do you say I am?  How you answer this question will profoundly shape your Christian walk and inform your sense of self.

Jesus disciples witnessed his many miracles but yet after He calmed the seas in Luke 8, they still struggled to understand the true identify of our Lord.  In fear and amazement, they asked each other, “Who is this?”  We have the benefit of having the Old and New Testament so we all should be able to answer the second question.

Pop psychology is wrong when it tells you to look inside yourself and find your value.  Scripture teaches that you are good simply because God made you in His image. Period.  You were made so He could love you.  1 John 4:19 reads, “We love before He first loved us.”  1 John 4:9-10 reads goes a little bit deeper by reading, “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  The sacrifice allows us to be presented pure and without blame to the Father.  Moreover, the blood of Jesus ensures that nothing can come between us and God (Romans 8:39).  The love of the Father and the sacrifice of the Son is fundamental in understanding ourselves and God.

Once we begin to realize how much God loves us, then we are better equipped to “consider it all joy” (James 1:2), “be content in any and every circumstance” (Philippians 4:12), and “be content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

So, once we understand who God is, then it helps us to understand who we are and gives us a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment in life.  True satisfaction happens when you engage in your role as an image bearer of God. Such was the view of King David. “As for me,” he wrote, “I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness” (Psalm 17:15).  David was on a journey to have more of Christ in him.  He knew that God was working in him to burn away the impurities just as a refiner of silver as described in Malachi 3:3.  The refinement is done when the refiner can see his face in the silver.  The Holy Spirit resides in you, but can a stranger look at you and see God?

Ephesians Chapter 1 is our basis for understanding who we are and our relationship with God.  We (1) were chosen, (2) are holy and blameless, (3) have been adopted, (4) have redemption, (5) were granted forgiveness, and (6) were sealed with the Holy Spirit.

As I was preparing this blog, I received the following from a friend.  He told me that the author was unknown.   It really goes to the heart of our identity as Christians.

 

I pray that your answer to the question, “Who do you same I am” is Jesus is my Lord and Savior.  Also, do not let yourself be defined by society or unhappy people on social media but instead commit yourself to living and knowing you are a child of God that was made in His image so He could love you.

When I encounter bitter and unhappy Christians, I realize that they do not know the truth about God nor themselves.  That is the sad result of a poor choice.  There is joy and freedom when we understand why God loves us so much.  It has everything to do with whose we are – we are His.  You are free to choose bitterness and hate, but as for me, I chose faith, hope, and love.  The choice is yours.  Choose wisely. 

Prayer:  Dear God, There is so much hatred and bitterness in this world.  We are a people divided and often over things that really don’t matter.  Forgive us for failing to forgive and love others as You have loved us and free us for joyful obedience to You.  Amen.

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T

todd shupe

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

todd shupe

 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10 NIV).

There was a hit song in 1967 by Aretha Franklin titled “Respect.”  Respect is important for both husbands and wives, and Scripture calls each partner to respect the other.  Husbands are specifically called in 1 Peter 3:7 to respect their wife and are given reasons.  “Husbands, also live with your wife the way you know is right. Respect her because she is a woman. She is not as strong as a man. Also respect her because God has given her, as well as you, the blessing of life. In this way, you will not stop God from doing what you ask him to do.” 

Husbands and wives both need respect and love.  I think the most important thing a wife can show her husband is respect, and the most important thing a husband can show his wife is love.  Ephesians 5:33 reads, “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”  This is the final verse of a section of Scripture dedicated to instructions for Christian households.  This verse is also the basis for the best-selling book, “Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires, the Respect He Desperately Needs” by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs.

Many wives feel that they cannot respect their husbands because their husbands are not worthy of respect.  This is a terrible situation for any wife.  Peter wrote to first-century Christian wives, and wives today, “even if your husband does not obey the Word they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wife when they behold your respectful behavior…” (1 Pet. 3:1-2, emphasis added).  It should be emphasized that in the book “Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires, the Respect He Desperately Needs,” husbands are encouraged to give unconditional love and wives are encouraged to give unconditional respect.  So, even if you feel that your spouse does not deserve or has not earned your love or respect, you should give it anyway.  Remember, we have done nothing to deserve our salvation, but Christ gave that to us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). 

Now, let’s return to our song about respect.   Aretha Franklin spelled out R-E-S-P-E-C-T and then sang out, “find out what it means to me.”  Rev. Larry Stockstill is a distinguished pastor and author from Bethany Church in Baton Rouge, La.  He once wrote, “Respect for a husband, according to that verse, is based not upon his “performance” but his “position.”  God made him to be head and leader of his family whether he knows it or not.  Treat him that way, regardless of his faults, flaws, and failures, and you have a real chance of winning him to Christ.”  I don’t think any woman can do this on her own.  However, I know that a wife of noble character as described in Proverbs 31 can partner with the Holy Spirit and do this and much more. 

Some women read Proverbs 31:23, “Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land,” and wonder was the Proverbs 31 woman’s husband a man worthy of respect when they got married or did he change into a well-respected man during their marriage?  Hillary Bernstein, Christian author and blogger, suggests, “Instead of wondering what comes first – a husband or a well-respected man –we need to be more concerned about how we are helping our husbands and treating them with respect.”

Dr. Gary Chapman wrote THE book on Christian marriages, “The Five Love Languages:  The Secret To Love That Lasts.”  Dr. Chapman identifies the five love languages as words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, acts of service, and receiving gifts.  Many wives assume that the preferred love language for their husband is physical touch, and this may be true, but some wives may fail to recognize the importance of words of affirmation for their husbands if they focus on physical touch.

If a wife demeans or disrespects her husband, he will likely feel either anger or despair.  He may quit on the marriage, look for opportunities to leave or stay gone for extended periods of time, use drugs or alcohol as a means of escape, or look for another woman that makes him “happy” and gives him the respect that he is desperately, although foolishly, seeking. 

A better option for women is to encourage their husbands.  His efforts may fall short of your expectations, but they will never measure up if you don’t notice his effort.  Find out what is important to him and try to respect those things.  Hint:  His job, hobbies, and mother are likely very important to him.  Make a mental picture in your mind of the type of husband that you want him to be and pray boldly, confidently, and with thanksgiving for God to transform him into that man.  As you wait for God, continue to model good behavior for him according to 1 Peter 3:1-2 and praise him for his progress rather than complain about his shortcomings. 

Everybody has heard the old expression that a dog is man’s best friend.  The attribute that men love in dogs, and in their spouse, is loyalty.  A loyal wife supports and encourages her husband and does not speak negatively about him to others or allow others to speak negatively to her about her husband.  A loyal wife is showing respect. 

We live in a visual society and temptation and graphic images are everywhere.  The temptation for wives is to focus on outer appearances.  However, a wife respects her husband, and herself, when she shows him her inner beauty. 1 Peter 3:3-4 teaches, Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.  Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”  I don’t think 1 Peter 3:3-4 is meant to discourage women from wanting to look nice but rather to remind women that true beauty is what is inside of you and God, and a godly husband, will recognize and honor true beauty.

If any husband has read this blog, and thinks he has the right to intentionally be unloving to his wife and then demand respect from her, he has misread this blog and is sadly mistaken.  Wives should respectfully and clearly decline to follow their husband into anything that is against Scripture, illegal, or immoral.  If either party is violent, immoral, unstable, or addicted, then then by all means the other must protect themself and the family.  The Proverbs 31 woman will love, honor, and pray for her husband even as he faces the consequences of poor choices.

The right next step is for wives to show their husbands unconditional respect, and for husbands to show their wives unconditional love.  If one party is not reciprocating, then continue to do what you can do and leave the rest to God. 

Prayer:  Dear God, Thank you for the blessing of marriage.  Help us to model your love and grace to each other, especially our spouses.  Amen.

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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We All Are A Child Of Peter AND Judas

Todd Shupe

We All Are A Child Of Peter AND Judas

Todd Shupe

Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me’” (Luke 22:34 NIV).

 

Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?’ So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over (Matthew 26:14-16 NIV).

 

Judas and Peter are two of the most well-known disciples of Jesus.  They were both called and blessed to have been disciples of Jesus.   Although they were similar in many ways, we typically think of them as opposites. 

Peter was among the earliest of Jesus’ disciples (with James and John) and had been with Him the longer than the others. The Bible does not say why Jesus chose Peter, James, and John as His inner circle, but it is evident that they were closer to Jesus than the others. These three men were present with Jesus during special events and witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration (Mark 9:2–3), raising of Jairus’s daughter from the dead (Luke 8:49–56), and were with Him while He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to His crucifixion (Matthew 26:36–38).  Peter saw Jesus’ greatest moments of glory and His darkest trials. 

Peter is often remembered as the disciple that walked on the water toward Jesus but began to sink when he turned his eyes off of our Lord.  However, in the video “The Only Disciple That Got it Right,” Kristi McLelland indicates that another way to view Peter is he was the only disciple that got out of the boat and moved toward Jesus (Matthew 14:22-33).  Moreover, Peter showed discernment when he sought confirmation that the voice calling him to leave the boat and walk on the water was indeed Jesus.  “Lord, if it’s you, Peter replied, tell me to come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28).

Peter is also often thought of as impulsive, and Jesus even referred to him as “dull” (Matthew 15:16).  However, Peter showed humility when he fell to his knees and said to Jesus, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’” (Luke 5:8).

Peter was impulsive and dull and did make mistakes, but Jesus, as is His nature, loved Peter wholeheartedly and continued to disciple him. Jesus reminded Peter of his identity and importance in Matthew 16:18, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  The story of Peter gives hopes to us all because we are also sinful and make mistakes, but Jesus can use imperfect people to do His perfect work.

Judas is always portrayed as the “bad guy” in contemporary Christianity. According to Scripture, Judas went to the chief priests before the Last Supper and agreed to hand over Jesus in exchange for 30 silver coins.  Judas later was filled with remorse and attempted to return the money.  It is ironic that Judas used a kiss to identify Jesus to the soldiers of the high priest, Caiaphas, who later handed him over to the soldiers of Pontius Pilate.

Indeed, Judas Iscariot is one of the most enigmatic, but also one of the most important people in the ministry of Jesus.  Unfortunately, the Bible does not tell us nearly as much about Judas as it does Peter.  By identifying Jesus to the Jewish authorities, Judas set into motion a series of events that became the foundations of our Christian faith: Jesus’s arrest, trial, death by crucifixion, and resurrection.  Is it possible that these events may not have occurred if Judas had not betrayed our Lord?  The sin of Judas many years ago provides the way for not only the forgiveness of our sins but for the opportunity upon our healing to eventually be presented to the Father as “holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation (Colossians 1:22).

For me, the key similarity is that both Judas and Peter denied Jesus before his Crucifixion. They committed the same sin, but the difference was the way each reacted to his failure. Judas focused on his sin and not the forgiveness of God. His remorse overwhelmed him, and he ultimately took his own life.

But when Peter realized his sin, he prayed, repented, and asked God for forgiveness. Then Jesus chose Peter to preach on Pentecost, and 3,000 people were saved the first day (Acts 2:14-42). Jesus chose to build the church on the one that denied him three times.

We are all similar to both Judas and Peter because we are all disciples of Jesus, but we are all also sinners.   However, the sin is not what defines us as Christians, but rather our sinful flesh provides us an opportunity to choose our future direction.  Judas was unable to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1).  Judas did not have the benefit of reading the gospels, but he did have the unique blessing of watching them unfold as Jesus revealed Himself as Lord and Savior to His disciples. 

Sadly, Judas became the fulfillment of the first part of Romans 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Peter’s story can be summed up in the second party of that verse because Peter focused on Christ, rather than his sin, and found forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus.  

Prayer:  Dear God, Thank you for the inspiration that we receive when we learn about Your ability to use ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things.  Help us to throw off our sin and redirect our focus on You.  Amen.

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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The Holy Spirit Meets Us In Our Loneliness

The Holy Spirit Meets Us In Our Loneliness

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:1-4 NIV).

 

We all love Christmas and Easter, but Pentecost is important too because it is the birthday of the bride of Christ, His Church.  Most pastors will use the second chapter of Acts as the basis of their sermon during Pentecost.  I love the imagery of the chapter as the Holy Spirit came upon the Israelites and gave them “tongues of fire.”

These tongues are with us today as we all go about in our efforts to fulfill the Great Commission.  In my lifetime, one of the most successful and recognizable evangelists for the Great Commission was the late Rev. Billy Graham.  I enjoy watching old YouTube videos of him preaching the Word at large revivals.  Surely, the Spirit of our Lord was present in the tongue of Rev. Graham as well as the ears and hearts of the crowd.  I am convinced of this.

The Spirit is not limited to those with the spiritual gift of teaching and preaching.   You are a son or daughter of God and upon your baptism into the Church universal, the Spirit has not only entered you but also equipped you for your ministry.   At the baptism of our Lord, the Father said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17).  I think God said something similar, although perhaps not as easily discernable, at your baptism and mine. 


I am concerned that many of us, myself included, have a poor understanding of the Spirit.  Yes, we understand the Holy Trinity, and we understand that the Spirit is moving during a God-breathed sermon.  We also know that the Spirit is our Advocate and provides intercessory prayers to the Father when all we can offer are “wordless groans” (Romans 8:26-27).  It is because of the presence of the Spirit and our faith in the Spirit, that we can do far greater things than Jesus.  John 14:12 reads, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” 

Indeed, the same Spirit in Act 2 is with us today, but some people sadly refuse to accept this gift. Scripture teaches that, “The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you (John 14:17, emphasis added).   A result of a Spirit-filled life is that the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) are manifested in our words and actions. 

So, if the Holy Spirit is with us and in us then why are so people lonely when they are alone?  It is no secret that humans are social creatures and are made for community.  In the book Loneliness:  Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, University of Chicago social neuroscientist John T. Cacioppo writes about his research on the effects of loneliness – “a sense of isolation or social rejection which disrupts not only our thinking abilities and will power but also our immune systems and can be as damaging as obesity or smoking.”

It should be understood that the pain of loneliness is raw and real for anybody, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof.   It is damaging and hurtful to downplay the emotions of a lonely person. 

Let us circle back to the late Rev. Billy Graham.  He said, “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love.”  Perhaps Rev. Graham was referring to John 16:8 in which our Lord promised to send the Holy Spirit.  “When He comes, He will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.”

The Holy Spirit has convicted me that my job is to love.  Jesus taught in Matthew 22: 36-40 that the Law and the Prophets hangs on our ability to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and Love your neighbor as yourself.”

I think we have a unique opportunity to show our love for God in our loneliness.  Do we chase companionship at the bottom of a whiskey bottle or do we accept the Truth of the Psalmist when he wrote, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).  Do we accept that if our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit, then He lives within us?   Do we accept the power of God, love of Jesus, and fellowship of the Holy Spirit, particularly in our loneliness, brokenness, and sin? 

The truth is we can partner with the Spirit to have victory over loneliness because He is always with us – in the valley of the shadow of death, in hospitals and nursing homes, and most certainly in our loneliness. 

Earlier, I mentioned my love for old-time sermons by Rev. Graham.  I am sure he would agree that there has been no greater sermon preached than the Sermon on the Mount.  In Matthew 5:4, Jesus addresses the lonely and broken-hearted and offers the greatest gift possible, His blessing.  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  The Holy Spirit has convicted me of the truth and victory of this verse, and I pray the same for you.

Prayer:  Dear God, We know that through Jesus you have experienced the human reality of isolation and rejection.  Thank you for sending your Holy Spirit to live within us and advocate for us.  Thank you for the fellowship we have with the Body of Christ.  Help us to embrace the fellowship of the Spirit, and to always remember that we are never alone.  Amen.

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Different Roads but the Same Destination

todd shupe

Different Roads but the Same Destination

todd shupe

Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us? ” (Luke 24:32 NKJV).

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’” (Acts 9:3-4 NIV).

Each of us has our own personal story of how we came to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.   For some, the journey to Christ is sudden and dramatic as what happened to Saul, later to be known as Paul, on the road to Damascus. For others, the journey to salvation looks more like the road to Emmaus – a gradual realization that Jesus has been with us before we even realize it or accept Him due to His prevenient grace. 

The Road to Damascus is an exciting story as detailed in Acts 9.  Saul was a Pharisee on his way to Damascus to bring followers of Jesus to the high priest for persecution.  On the road, God revealed himself to Saul in a dramatic fashion and Saul immediately submits himself to our Lord. I love the imagery in Acts 9:3-6.   “As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? . . . I am Jesus. . . .’ So he, trembling and astonished, said, ‘Lord, what do You want me to do?’”  Saul was blinded for three days after the encounter, and I suspect that this experience later prompted him to write, “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Scripture tells of other “Damascus” experiences in which a person has a sudden revelation or epiphany that radically changes their beliefs.  For example, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush (Exodus 3) and meets Isaiah in the temple (Isaiah 6).  Mother Theresa has talked about her Damascus road experience when she was on a train at 16 years old.

The Damascus road experience is exciting and captivating.  Many Christians feel disappointed if they do not have a similar testimony.  The problem with waiting for our own Damascus road experience is that we may miss our walk to Emmaus experience.  Remember, God does not always reveal Himself in a dramatic fashion.  Sometimes, He is not in the wind, earthquake, or fire but rather speaks in a “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:11-13).

The walk to Emmaus story is detailed in Luke 24:13-35 and describes how Jesus can gradually and subtly reveal Himself to us.  The story describes how two of Jesus’ followers were sad as they walked to Emmaus because the person (Jesus) that they thought was the Messiah had died three days earlier.  Jesus comes along side of them as they walk.  He walks and talks with them and interprets the Scriptures to them, but they do not recognize Him until at the end of the day when He blesses bread and gives it to them.  Then, they finally recognized our Lord. 

As I read the Emmaus story my mind takes me to the story of the LORD calling a young Samuel into ministry in 1 Samuel 3.  God called Samuel three times, but Samuel did not recognize His call, and Scripture tells us the reason.  “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him” (1 Samuel 3:7).  Samuel did not recognize God because Eli was still teaching him about God.  Now, with regards to Saul, clearly, the word of the Lord also had not been previously revealed to him.  So, what about the men walking to Emmaus?  Had the word of the Lord been revealed to them?  Scripture tells us that the men were followers of Jesus and had hoped that “He was the one that was going to redeem Israel.” 

Even though the Emmaus travelers were followers of Jesus, they too were “blind” to His presence because they did not fully understand Scripture.  Their lack of understanding prompted this response from Jesus.  “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! (Luke 24:25).  Perhaps the word “blind” could be inserted for “foolish”? 

The people in both the Emmaus and Demascus stories have issues of blindness.  After Saul encounters God, he loses his sight for three days until a disciple by the name of Ananias lays hand on him and heals him. The two men on the road to Emmaus, were already followers of Jesus, but their spiritual sight was poor, so they failed to recognize Jesus as they walked.  

Now, let’s go back to the number of times that God called Samuel – three.  Numbers have symbolic purposes in the Bible, and number three stands out as one of the more prominent numbers featured in Scripture.  Scripture tells us that the journey to Emmaus occurred three days after Jesus was crucified, which is the same number of days that Saul lost his sight after his encounter with God.  You may recall that Jesus rose three days after His crucifixion.   There are other examples in Scripture regarding the number three but perhaps none more significant than the three in one Holy trinity.

I have spent more time journeying to Emmaus than Damascus. God will often move on my heart in a gradual, incremental, almost imperceptible or “Emmaus” way, and looking back after days or even years I might eventually realize that my risen Lord was truly walking with me.  Or after a moving sermon or a powerful small group session, I might look back and realize that God was using somebody else’s tongue to talk to me.  Your calling may not come at one of the extremes (Emmaus or Damascus) but rather somewhere in between.  Just as each of us are uniquely called into ministry by our baptism and profession of faith, we are also uniquely called and gifted to our unique positions within the Body. 

Prayer:  Dear God, Thank you for walking with us.  We ask of You what the Psalmist asked – “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.”   Forgive us as we fail to recognize you and remind us of the promise of the Psalmist – “The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.”  Amen.

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Is Your Peace Temporary Or Permanent?

Is Your Peace Temporary Or Permanent?

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27 NIV).

 

I think we all want peace.  Even the sound of the word is pleasing to the ear.  We differ in how we go about trying to achieve peace.   For some, peace is a quiet night with no children and no phone calls.  Others may find peace by drinking coffee in the morning or wine in the evening.  You might find your peace by owning a home security system and a gun!

The kind of peace the world gives is temporary. It has been reported that in the last 300 years, about 260 peace treaties have been signed—and almost none of them were kept.  As Christians, we not only receive the forgives of our sins and life everlasting, but we also receive His peace.  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27, emphasis added).  Jesus specifies the type of peace that He is giving.  This is not your typical peace, not conditional peace, and not earthly peace.  This is His peace. 

The peace that comes from the world is totally circumstantial.  If your peace is contingent on your income, home security system, or coffee, then what happens to your peace when these things are gone?  The peace that comes from a life lived in Jesus and for Jesus is different.  His peace is not contingent on your actions.  There is no quid pro quo or contract.  Jesus gives you a different kind of peace.  The Bible calls it “peace . . . which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

The peace of Jesus is certainly hard to understand from a secular perspective.  His grace allows us to be at peace when there’s no obvious or visible reason why we should be at peace.  I have a good friend that lost his house and contents due to a flood a few years ago.   His life was in chaos, but for some unexplainable reason, He was at peace.  His confidence and peace at this terrible time was a strong witness to his faith.

The peace that Jesus offers us today is the same peace that He offered the woman at the well in John 4.  Jesus told the woman, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). 

Any areas of our lives that are full of worry, anxiety, or fear represent areas that we have not yielded to Jesus.  This could include our finances, marriage, job, etc.  Whatever it is, we have to let it go in order for God to take control.  You may have heard the expression “let go and let God.”  I think this is great, but I would make one slight change- “let go, let God, and rest in His peace.”

The right next step is to pray the prayer, or one of your own, below and then follow up with your pastor.

Prayer:  Dear God, Thank you for your love and grace.  Send your Holy Spirit to search me and reveal any areas of my life that I have not surrounded to you.  Grant me the courage and wisdom to yield everything to you so I can truly rest in your peace.  Amen.

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Real Faith Has Works

Real Faith Has Works

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? (James 2:14 NIV).

 

Most surveys show that the vast majority of Americans self-identify as Christians and have faith in God.  This is great, but James 2:14 puts this in context.  “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?”

In my Bible, the heading for Hebrews 11 reads “Faith in Action” and the first verse of chapter 11 teaches, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

I can tell you that I am a great baseball pitcher, but that self-identification does not necessarily make it true.  James 2:14 is teaching us what is the use of telling others that you have faith if it is not reflected in how you live and what actions you take? 

Please do not be mistaken and think that James is saying we are saved by our works.  Scripture is very clear in this regard that we are saved by faith in Jesus, nothing more and nothing less.  Galatians 2:16 reads, “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”  Our actions are a natural manifestation of our faith.  They are the outward fruit.  “For the tree is known and recognized and judged by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33).

Real faith takes action but does so out of love, not obligation or to curry favor with God.  Real faith is different from pseudo faith because the former is active in ministry outside the church and the later simply attends church every Sunday. 

Scripture contains thousands of promises from God to us.  We cannot claim these promises with an insincere faith.  We cannot expect God to hear our prayers if they are not offered in true faith.  And “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). 

So how do we know if we have real faith?  We must look at our actions and see if they are in agreement with our beliefs.  One of the most important things we can do in life is an honest self-evaluation.  It is also one of the more difficult tasks we can do.  But if we can successfully do this, then we can live out the Faith in Action of Hebrews 11.  The right next step is to sit down with your pastor or Christian friend and help them guide you through the process.  You will not regret this decision.

Prayer:  Dear God, Help us to maintain at least the faith of a mustard seed on our darkest days.  Amen. 

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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