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Who is telling the truth?

Adapted from a Creative Commons Flickr photo by Taras Kalapun
Adapted from a Creative Commons Flickr photo by Taras Kalapun

A guide for Christians

Thousands of voices come at us every day with competing messages: Forget the law, you’re under grace. If you’re not following the law, you’re not following Jesus. Name it and claim it. Don’t trust the prosperity gospel. Vote Republican. Vote Democrat. Don’t vote at all. Yada yada.

Who’s telling the truth?

It’s easier than ever to be deceived, and to head off in a direction that God does not want us to take. Let me suggest four principles to guide us back to truth.


(1) Know your Bible

This is important, and it cannot be delegated to someone else. The Bible is God’s road map to truth. You need to know your Bible. That means reading it from cover to cover, not just once, but again and again throughout your life.

Here’s how I do it: I downloaded the Bible on audio to my phone. I play that audio all night. As I’m falling asleep, I’m listening to scripture. As I wake up and get ready for my day, I’m listening to the Bible. It’s not uncommon for me to listen to 10, 20, 30 or more chapters in a night. This gives me the big picture. When someone comes along claiming that a verse supports their crazy ideas, I’m better able to evaluate whether that passage in its context is really saying what that person claims it’s saying.

That’s one approach. There are many others. If you need help getting into the Bible, contact me. I have great resources for you.


(2) Ask God for wisdom

God is eager to give wisdom to His kids. All you need to do is ask. Hopefully, you’re developing a close relationship with Jesus where you’re able to discern His guidance in your life. How do you know if your wisdom is coming from God? Here’s a verse that might help: “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” James 3:17 NIV

Keep in mind that wisdom comes from obedience. When we disobey what God has clearly revealed to us that He wants us to do, we block any further wisdom from Him. The house of wisdom cannot be built on a foundation of disobedience. This is one reason why some otherwise very intelligent people come up with outlandish ideas—they’re building on the wrong foundation.


(3) Pay attention to history

Biblical, church and secular history has much to teach us if we’re willing to pay attention. The new heresies are recycled versions of the old ones. There’s nothing new under the sun. Philosopher George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”


(4) Examine the fruit

Jesus said that we can tell a tree by its fruit. If someone is walking in the truth, then their lives should be producing more and more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Read Galatians 5 or the Sermon on Mount in Matthew 5-7. A person who walks in the truth should be living a righteous life. If they aren’t, then it’s time to look elsewhere for guidance.


PS. Would you join me to build a new empowering community? The Alternative Church is a Google+ community open to all but designed particularly for those who have stepped away from traditional church. Our culture is respect. Our aim is to move from a sermon-centered event to an empowering community. My prayer is that you will find friends, inspiration and a safe place to process your spiritual journey. (You need to be logged into a Google account to access.)

Photo credit: Adapted from a Creative Commons Flickr photo by Taras Kalapun

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What I believe about you

Adapted from a Flickr photo by Vinoth Chandar, Creative Commons License
Adapted from a Flickr photo by Vinoth Chandar, Creative Commons License

You are no accident.
You have been in God’s heart and in His plan
from eternity past.

God is at work in you.
All the broken places in our lives are simply opportunities
for God to show His great love and transforming power.
God never fails.
He is smarter than our enemy,
stronger than our addictions.

God likes you.
He likes hanging out with you.
You are deeply treasured.
No one can take your place in God’s heart.
God will satisfy all your desires with good things

The signature of God is on you;
you are His creation,
and God doesn’t make junk.
You were created to live forever,
designed to make a difference,
engineered for excellence.

God is with you.
You have what it takes.
You are here for a purpose.
You carry Jesus into our broken world.
You are the answer to someone’s prayer.
You are the friend someone longs for.
You are the difference your world needs.

When you took the hand of Jesus,
you entered into life.
You became indestructible,
All the powers of hell
might line up to take you down,
but Jesus pushes those bullies up against the lockers,
and you walk by unharmed.

You are a royal son, a royal daughter of God.

And thank you for being my friend.

Dwight Clough

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Secret dreams

Adapted from a Flickr photo by thskyt, Creative Commons License
Adapted from a Flickr photo by thskyt, Creative Commons License

Maturity is, in part, the ability to know when the story isn’t finished.

In the Bible book of 2 Kings, we read the story of a woman from the village of Shunem. This was a woman with a secret dream. Deep in her heart, she longed to have a child, but as the years went by her dream slowly died. She and her husband had money, and the things money could buy in those days. But she didn’t have what she wanted most: a family.

She spoke to no one about this secret dream. She buried it deep inside. Time passed. The dream died, and she did her best to move on with life. She grew cautious, not daring to dream any more.

Then the prophet Elisha came through the village. Being hospitable, she and her husband invited him in for a meal. A friendship started. They felt so much at home with one another that this old couple even built guest quarters onto their home so Elisha would have a place to stay.

Elisha talked to them. “You’ve done all these nice things for me, what can I do for you?”

The woman said, “I don’t need anything. I have everything money can buy.”

But Elisha had an assistant, and that assistant saw through her answer. “She wants a child,” he whispered to Elisha.

Aha! Elisha saw an opportunity for God. “A year from now,” he said, “you will hold a son in your arms.”

“No,” she said. “No.”

I pause here. Why would she say no?

Why would any of us say no?

Could it be that we’ve had our hopes raised and then dashed one time too many? Could it be that we’ve seen our dreams die, and the process of bringing them back to life is just too painful? Could it be that we’ve settled for second best because that’s all we know.

She said, “No.”

But God said, “Yes.” And a year later, her home was filled with the joy that a new child brings.

Yet the story doesn’t end here.

The little boy started growing up. One day he followed his daddy out into the fields of the family farm, excited to help out with the harvest. But something happened. Something wasn’t right. The boy buckled over in pain.

I don’t know what it was. An aneurism perhaps, or a stroke, or encephalitis. I don’t know. His dad didn’t know either, but he knew he needed care, so he asked a farm worker to carry him home to his mom.

There at home, in mom’s arms, the little boy died.

I pause again, and I ask you: What kind of God do we serve?

I ask you now, because sooner or later life will put this question to you. You will lose something that you deeply care about, and the God you thought you knew and loved will seem terribly far away, aloof, uncaring, arbitrary, capricious.

It’s at that time we must make a choice. Are we going to pick up the broken pieces of our shattered dreams and carry them back to God? Or will we turn away from Him, perhaps forever?

The woman from Shunem chose to take her shattered life back to God. Understand this: She took it all. Her grief, her pain, her anger, her deep loss.

She laid her dead son down on the prophet’s bed in the guest quarters, and set off to find Elisha.

“Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t raise my hopes’?” she said as she poured out her grief to the man of God.

Now here is part of the secret of maturity. Maturity is, in part, the ability to know when the story isn’t finished.

God wasn’t finished. Read 2 Kings 4. The woman’s son was raised to life. So also, your most fragile and precious dreams are eternally safe with God.

Will we take the plunge? Will we dance with Him? Will we open up our hearts so wide that maybe we will lose part of ourselves to God?


PS. Would you join me to build a new empowering community? Alternative Church is not a sermon-centered event, but a safe place to process your relationship with Jesus and to explore your potential to make a difference.

Same Jesus.
Same Bible.
Alternative church.

#AlternativeChurch #EmpowerGood

Photo credit: Adapted from a Flickr photo by thskyt, Creative Commons License

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5 ways to fight back…

Adapted from a Flickr photo by Micolo J, Creative Commons License
Adapted from a Flickr photo by Micolo J, Creative Commons License

5 ways to fight back…
when your world is falling apart…

#1 Know that Jesus hurts with you

The shortest verse in the Bible is also one of the most important: “Jesus wept.” John 11:35. Why did He weep? Not because He can’t or won’t fix our problems, but rather because He is not aloof. He feels our pain. He cares. He hurts when we hurt.

#2 Let yourself be loved by God

God is love. Love needs someone to love. That someone is you. God wants to encourage you. He wants to comfort you. He wants to affirm you. He wants to help you. Bring your hurts and your problems to Him. He understands. He will listen. He will care. He will guide you to a better place.

#3 Live each day with eternity in view

Yes, Jesus is for the here and now. But there are bullies in this life that are bigger than you or me. Sooner or later, we tangle with them, and we get hurt. That’s reality. But no bully is bigger than the eternal life granted us by the Father through Jesus. I’ve said it before: The work of the enemy in your life is like sand castles on the shore of eternity…and the tide is coming in.

#4 Focus on what you can control

Almost always you can make a choice that will move you forward toward your ultimate triumph as a son or daughter of God. Maybe the choice before you is to say yes to God. Maybe that is your only choice. If so, that is your power; use it! You may also have the power to cry out to God, to smile, to be pleasant to those who are unpleasant to you, to ask for wisdom, or to do some other good thing. Focus on what you can NOT on what you cannot do, and let God take care of the rest.

A similar principle: If you’re in a conflict that’s 99% the other person’s fault, focus on your one percent. You’ll be surprised, as a rule, how powerful this principle is in resolving most conflicts.

#5 Use what you gain to help others

In your hour of trial, you will receive comfort, strength, peace, wisdom and help from God. Share what you’ve received with others. Help them connect with the God of all comfort and the Father of mercies. (2 Corinthians 1:4)

Be encouraged!


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Where I see Jesus

I’m not gonna be one of the cool kids. I figured that out a long time ago.

Maybe you’re cool.
Maybe I’m not.
Maybe you’re in.
Maybe I’m out.
It’s all good with me.

I’m not scrambling to be seen with the popular and the powerful. It’s not for me. I don’t want pay the dues. The price of belonging is too high. I don’t want to sell part of who I am just so I can fit in with somebody’s idea of who I should be.

Given a choice, I’d rather hang out with the people the world underestimates—the people who are out of sync, out of style, out of luck, and out of friends.

I don’t know. For some reason, I see Jesus in the people the crowd crucifies.

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The surprising truth about judging others

“Don’t judge me.”

This mantra is embedded in our culture. Sometimes people invoke the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:1 to support it: “Do not judge, or you will be judged.”

Here’s what many people mean by this:

  • There are no moral absolutes.
  • What’s right and wrong for me isn’t necessarily right and wrong for you.
  • Because your beliefs and my beliefs are equally valid, neither one of us has the right to impose our beliefs upon the other.
  • I should not condemn you for engaging in behavior that I think is wrong.

In addition, some people assume that the only purpose of religion is to give some people the power to control the lives of others by restricting their behavior to an arbitrary and senseless set of requirements. Therefore, religious people particularly should not “judge.”

But this gives Jesus’ words a 21st century meaning that was never originally intended.

I’m going to suggest a different way of looking at Jesus’ command not to judge.

Does God have a right to judge?
Let’s start here: Our world is messed up.

We know this.

What our culture doesn’t know is whether God is to blame. Does He know the world is a mess? Does He care? Did He cause our suffering?

If God is at fault, if He’s incompetent, if He’s aloof, then no wonder people don’t want anything to do with Him.

But I’ve experienced and the Bible reveals a very different God—a God who hurts deeply when we hurt; a God is angry when people are violated; a God who heals, restores, rebuilds, transforms.

Because God is both good and great, He not only has the power and the legal authority to judge, but He also has the moral right and obligation to judge people and nations. We live in a moral universe. God has the right to judge.

That brings us to the two ways for a messed up world to get better:
(1) People may voluntarily cooperate with God in their own transformation—“Okay, I’m messed up, but I don’t want to be messed up; could You please do Your work inside me so that I’m changed into a new person?”
(2) People who refuse transformation are involuntarily restrained / removed. That is the judgment of God.

Make no mistake: God prefers the first. He doesn’t like to judge anybody. Jesus made it clear that He came into the world not to condemn the world, but so that the world through Him might be saved.

So God has the right to judge and will judge, but He often withholds judgment to give us an opportunity to open our lives to His transforming power.

Do we have right to judge?
That brings us to the next question: Do we have a right to judge?

Actually, we make judgments all the time.

Rape, robbery, kidnapping—these things are wrong. I’m not going to do these things because I judge that these things are wrong. I hope you judge likewise.

But should you sometimes confront other people and tell them they are doing wrong?

Here’s my answer:

Yes! Absolutely yes!

Example #1: You’re a parent. Your child is about to set the neighbor’s dog on fire. I hope you have the sense to step in, confront, judge, correct the behavior.

Example #2: You’re a police officer. Someone is robbing a bank, threatening the employees and customers with a gun. Your job is to judge that this behavior is wrong, and the perpetrator needs to be stopped. Your job is to confront this behavior and stop it.

Jesus confronted people regularly with their behavior. Read Matthew 23. He took on the religious establishment of His day, and told them in no uncertain terms that they were very, very wrong.

When and how should we judge?
I want to come back to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7: “Do not judge, or you will be judged.”

I love the way The Message Bible renders the first couple verses of Matthew 7:

[Jesus continued] “Don’t pick other people apart—even in your mind. That critical spirit earns you criticism in return, and judgment from God. And don’t disguise your criticism as social work, pretending to help others fix their faults when you’re blind to your own. Focus instead on cleaning up your own act…”

While we’re looking at Bible passages, we should also take this one into consideration:

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Galatians 6:1 NIV

Here are some principles that govern if, when and how we are to “judge” or confront people with their wrong behavior:

#1 Judgment begins with ourselves
(See 1 Corinthians 11:28.) Each of us needs to focus on our own transformation with God. That’s the first priority. We aren’t in a condition to help others with their sins if we haven’t let God clean up our own. To take this a step further, the Bible says that judgment begins with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17). As a community of believers, our desire is not to condemn and accuse those who don’t share our faith, but rather to clean up our own act so that those on the outside will be inspired to seek what God has given us.

#2 Confine your judgment to the God-given role you have in that person’s life
What God-given role do you have in someone else’s life? If you are someone’s parent, if you are a legally appointed judge or justice, if you are a police officer, if you are a teacher, then you have a specific role in the lives of certain other people that requires you to make judgments, to confront and correct inappropriate behavior.

Generally speaking, our role is to be ambassadors of Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:20) Ambassadors are chosen because they know how to be diplomatic. We are also called to be peacemakers. (Matthew 5:9) When a man’s ways please the Lord, he causes even his enemies to be at peace with him. (Proverbs 16:7)

In some cases, church leaders have an obligation to exercise church discipline—that is, they need to confront those who, by their actions, are damaging the reputation of Christ and hindering others from being reconciled to God. At times church leaders were called upon to remove such people from the church. (See Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Corinthians 5.)

Finally, sometimes people give us permission to speak into their lives. If we don’t have a God-given role in that person’s life, and if we don’t have permission to speak into their lives, confronting that person with their sin will probably do more harm than good.

#3 As Christians, our goal is to restore
To restore is different than to accuse. I have heard sermons in which pastors have accused the people in the congregation of committing sins, all the while the pastor had no way of knowing if those people were guilty of those sins. This is extraordinarily harmful. Satan is the accuser. (Revelation 12:10) That job is already taken. That’s an example we do NOT want to follow.

What did Jesus do? He spoke the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15) He was not on a witch hunt for sin. Instead, every time He spoke with someone, He looked for ways to bring healing, peace and reconciliation with God. These should be our goals. If we enjoy pointing out someone else’s faults, then that’s a sure sign that we’re not ready for this kind of responsibility.

Some people are afraid of being “soft on sin.” A much bigger concern, in my view, is being incompetent at restoration.

Two other issues should be mentioned with respect to restoring someone else:

(1) What is your level of maturity? (Galatians 6:1) Mature believers approach others with respect, understanding, compassion and a real sense that we are all in this together. Mature believers also understand the difference between nonnegotiable moral absolutes and debatable matters of belief and behavior. They know which battles are worth fighting, and which issues are better overlooked. (Proverbs 19:11) Mature believers display patience and gentleness as they help others find their way home. (2 Timothy 2:24-26)

(2) How well do you understand the other person’s situation? (Proverbs 18:13) We really cannot make any kind of judgment until we have heard the other person’s side of the story. That means we need to really listen and seek to understand. We need to step outside ourselves and make our best effort to see the situation from that other person’s perspective. Then and only then can we begin the delicate work or restoration.

Should you judge?
Yes and no.
Criticize, accuse, condemn, speak out of turn, start a fight? No.
Gently restore giving consideration to your God-given role in that person’s life? Absolutely yes.


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How Spiritual Math Really Works

spiritual math
How Spiritual Math Really Works

You + Sin = Death
You + Jesus = Life

That’s basic spiritual math.

But some people want to rewrite the equation like this:

You + Sin + Jesus

and they hope to get

= Life

on the other side.

But this doesn’t work, and I’ll explain why.

Sin is a package deal. It creates three realities in our lives:

Sin creates damage
Sin creates corruption
Sin creates death (spiritual)

Let me briefly explain.
Others sin; we get hurt, sometimes for life. That’s damage.
We sin. By doing so, we become less than God intended. We become carriers of hurt rather than carriers of healing. That’s corruption.
Our sins separate us from God. Without a remedy, that separation is permanent. That’s death.

Someone told me the story the other day of a young man growing up on a farm whose father deserted the family every day to go fishing. The full load of responsibility for the farm fell on this boy. The son carried the load the best he knew how, but every night when his father got home, he found fault with his son and beat him mercilessly. As a result, this boy grew up to be a bitter and angry man who took refuge in an alcohol addiction and wanted very little to do with God.

Jesus came to fix things like this in our lives. He came to set us free.

But some people look at these spiritual realities and hope to create a new kind of spiritual math, a math that doesn’t work:

You + Sin + Jesus

They want the freedom to keep on sinning without incurring the penalty (spiritual death). They want Jesus to come between them and the penalty, but they don’t want Jesus to come between them and their sin. They want to be forgiven for all sins past, present and future, without allowing Jesus to make any changes in their lives.

Throughout the Bible, it’s made clear that this does NOT work. Romans 10:9, Luke 6:46, John 8:11, 1 John 3:9, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and so on. Jesus does not coexist with sin. Sorry. It doesn’t work that way. The presence of Jesus eradicates sin.

Now many people are confused at this point because they misunderstand intent, identity and process. Let me explain.

Our intent is to welcome Jesus into our lives, and let Him do what He wants to do.

That’s how we enter into this equation:

You + Jesus = Life

When we invite Jesus in on those terms we receive a new identity.

“For if a man belongs to Christ, he is a new person. The old life is gone. New life has begun.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 NLV

We were sinners (people identified by their connection to sin); we became saints (people identified by their connection to Jesus—not “saints” in the specialized Roman Catholic tradition, but saints in the more general New Testament sense).

But what gives? If we’re saints, why are our lives so messed up? Why do we still sin? Why do we still hurt?

Here’s where the process comes in.

Inviting Jesus into your life is something like inviting a house cleaner into your home. The house doesn’t become instantly spotless the moment the house cleaner steps across the threshold. No. It’s a process. One room at a time. Each little closet. Each little cubbyhole.

So yes, we are saints, and yes, we still sometimes sin because we are a work in progress. Jesus isn’t finished with us.

A final note: Sometimes people who want nothing to do with Jesus are much better behaved than some who have welcomed Jesus into their lives. Why is that? Everybody has a different starting point. What matters most is not where you are, but what direction you’re moving. Are you moving toward God or away from Him? And all of us, regardless of our beliefs and behaviors, have equal worth in God’s sight. How much is that worth? More than the wealth of the entire planet. (Mark 8:36-37)

Hope this helps. Remember, you are designed to make a difference!


PS. What kind of world changer are you? Two simple questions reveal the answer…

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Exit strategy

When we step away into eternity all that matters is one thing: Are you connected to Jesus? You can take the hand that Jesus offers right here, right now. Here’s a prayer to express that decision:

Jesus, I have sinned. I have been sinned against. I am guilty before God, and I have been damaged by the infection of sin. But You died and rose again to make me right with God, to break the power of sin in my life and to forever heal the hurts caused by sin. I want that. I open the door of my life to You. Come in and live with me. Break the power of sin in me. Heal the hurt that sin has done to me. I want to live with You and Father God forever. Thank You for including me in Your family. Thank You for the gift of Your presence in my life. Amen.

For a much more complete understanding of your exit strategy, read What I Believe About You.

If you’d like to talk to someone about your faith journey, please feel free to contact Dwight below.

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Three questions every Christian leader must answer

Adapted from a Flickr photo by Vinoth Chandar, Creative Commons License
Adapted from a Flickr photo by Vinoth Chandar, Creative Commons License

The people you influence are hungry for the answers to life’s three basic questions. They may not know how to put these questions into words, but behind every cry for help is a deep need to know—at our core—the answers to these questions.


(1) Who is God?

No, we don’t want or need a theology lesson. You can list the attributes of God all day long, and our minds wander. What we need is something more primal. Does God even know I’m here? Does He care? Why is He so angry? If He really cares, why do people suffer so much? Am I just part of some cosmic experiment for Him? Am I just a joke? Or, alternatively, is God so serious that it’s no fun to be around Him at all?

People don’t trust God because they don’t know Him. Would you trust someone who is aloof, angry, arbitrary, abusive? I sure wouldn’t. But this is the only God most people know, and they’re desperately hoping that somewhere in the universe there is a God who cares, a God who can make sense of this mess we’re in, a God who can lead us all to a better place.


(2) Who are we?

Do we even matter? Are we just a chemical equation, a random aberration of of the universe? Are we nothing more than a tiny blip on the radar screen of time? If there is a God, do we disgust Him as we sometimes disgust one another? Are we sinners, or are we saints? Are we lost forever?

We act out of our identity. We become who we believe we are. If we aren’t clear on who we are, then we are doomed to live out some other identity, an identity that was never intended for us. This again, is something we need to understand at the very core of our being.


(3) Why is there a disconnect between who we are and what we do, and what can we do about it?

Most Christians—to say nothing of those outside the family of faith—are clueless. We screw up. We’re sorry. We’ll try harder. We’re trying harder, but it isn’t working. We feel like giving up. Why can’t we get this right?

The old try harder message is pounded away week after week, but it isn’t producing results. Do we understand why? Do we understand what repentance really means, and how God transforms us? Do we understand the difference between Christian cliches and the real thing? If we are to lead people to a better place, we need to know.

Answer these questions well, and you will lead confused and hurting people safely home. You will reconnect them with the God who loves them, and empower them to experience His transforming presence as an everyday miracle in their lives.

Be encouraged!

PS. Have you seen my article, “7 Freedoms—Your birthright as a child of God”? Check it out here…

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What are we worth?

Adapted from a Flickr photo by David Amsler, Creative Commons License
Adapted from a Flickr photo by David Amsler, Creative Commons License

What are we worth?

As we read through the Gospels, we come to this statement by Jesus—a statement that may at first sound discordant to many ears: “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” (Luke 17:10)

“Unworthy!” What does Jesus mean?

Unworthy does not mean worthless. Jesus did not die for junk. He died to redeem the diamonds that were covered in the mud of sin. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross.

What was that joy? The joy was us, His children—enjoying us for all eternity.

Are we unworthy? Yes. Do we deserve redemption? No. Are we good enough—apart from Jesus—to be admitted into heaven? No.

But Jesus found us in our unworthiness and saw beyond what we can see. He looked into the far reaches of eternity and said, “I will give My Life for you.” He looked ahead. He saw you. And, in seeing you, He saw joy, value and worth.

Be encouraged!

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