Author Archive | Denny Burk

What the Gospel Requires

The most succinct expression of the gospel in all of scripture appears in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in 15:3-5. Nowhere else is the matter stated so briefly and comprehensively than in this one text. But before Paul spells out what this gospel is in verses 3-5, he explains what this gospel requires in verses 1-2. Paul writes:

1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand…

Right out of the gate, Paul makes it clear that his focus is the gospel. The word “gospel” comes from the Greek word euangelion, which very literally means “good news” or “good message.” Gospel is not a word that originates with Paul or even with Jesus. The term grows out the rich soil of revelation in the Old Testament where the prophets announce the “good news” of Israel’s promised return from exile. The key text in this regard is Isaiah 40:9: Continue Reading →

A Primer on and Critique of the term “Whiteness”

Neil Shenvi has a helpful article explaining the meaning of the term “whiteness” within critical race theory and how it differs from common usage. That difference causes big time problems. From Shenvi’s conclusion:

Exploring the historical conception of ‘whiteness’ and its connection to racism is a worthwhile subject. At one point, it did indeed connote or at least suggest “membership in the superior racial caste.” However, few if any Americans today would endorse that understanding. Consequently, the antiracist is taking a morally neutral term and using it to express a deeply evil concept. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Of course, in principle, we are free to define terms however we want as long as we’re consistent. But the goal of language is effective communication. If I insist on defining “moron” to mean “French hockey player,” I shouldn’t be surprised if a roomful of French hockey players is offended by my definition! We should choose words that convey our meaning as clearly as possible and -as Christians- as charitably as possible.

To minimize the possibility of misunderstanding, a simple solution is available: substitute the phrases “white racial superiority” or “membership in the highest racial caste” for the term ‘whiteness.’ Since these phrases already carry extremely negative connotations (with good reason!), the antiracist runs no risk in confusing their hearers.

This is a helpful article. Read the rest here.

Last year, I read Richard Delgado’s and Jean Stefanic’s Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, and I noticed some of the same problems of usage. “Whiteness” is used to refer to a hegemonic social construct, but it is also used right alongside the term “white” as a racial category. Sometimes it is unclear whether Delgado and Stefanic are criticizing whiteness or people with white skin. For example:

Many critical race theorists and social scientists hold that racism is pervasive, systemic, and deeply ingrained. If we take this perspective, then no white member of society seems quite so innocent. The interplay of meanings that one attaches to race; the stereotypes one holds of other people; the standards of looks, appearance, and beauty; and the need to guard one’s own position all powerfully determine one’s perspective. Indeed, one aspect of whiteness, according to some scholars, is its ability to seem perspectiveless or transparent (p. 91, underline mine).

Delgado and Stefanic obviously employ “white” to refer to skin color in the first instance. While the later use of “whiteness” would seem to be referring to a hegemonic social construct, it is unclear if that is all that it means. Is “whiteness” only referring to a social construct in the second instance? Delgado and Stefanic have just said that “no white member of society seems quite so innocent.” That seems to suggest that all people with white skin to some degree share in the culpability of whiteness as a social construct. If that is the case, doesn’t whiteness implicate all people with white skin?

In any case, this terminology can be very confusing at best and positively divisive at worst. I think Shenvi’s suggestions for speaking more clearly would do a great deal in providing clarity to our conversations about these sensitive issues.

Are biblical manhood and womanhood cultural constructs?

I have been preaching through 1 Corinthians at my church and have just completed a series of sermons on Paul’s long section about matters related to public worship (chs. 11-14). At the beginning and end of this section, Paul addresses the role of women in public worship. In chapter 11:2-16, Paul introduces the idea of male headship and the need for women to honor headship when they pray and prophesy in the gathered assembly. In chapter 14:34-35, Paul says that women need to “keep silent” and to “subject themselves” when prophecies are uttered during congregational worship.

One item that stood out to me in both of these texts is that Paul grounds his teaching about male headship in the common practice of all the churches. After instructing women to honor male headship by wearing head coverings, Paul writes:

1 Cor. 11:16 “But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.”

Likewise, when giving instructions about orderliness while people are prophesying, Paul writes:

1 Cor. 14:33-36
33b as in all the churches of the saints. 34 Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 35 And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. 36 Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only?

Notice what Paul is doing. In both of these texts, Paul says that his teaching about headship and submission is not some sidebar item that churches can either take or leave. He says that his teaching on headship, manhood, and womanhood are a part of the apostolic foundation that he has laid in “all the churches of the saints” (14:33b). To depart from this foundation is to depart from something that the apostle believes to be fundamental.

In 11:16, it’s as if Paul is saying to his readers, “If you don’t like honoring headship in worship, you need to know that you are out on an island. If you want to follow me and the other apostles, you won’t fight me on this. You will turn your heart toward honoring headship in the way that I am telling you.”

In 14:36, Paul says that the word of God is not the exclusive domain of any one church. The word of God did not originate in Corinth, nor was Corinth the only place to which the word of God came. The word of God is abroad in the churches. The Corinthians need to pay attention to how the Spirit of God is moving and working in all the churches.

If all the churches are hearing from the Spirit one thing, but the Corinthians are practicing another thing, then that’s an indication that the Corinthians are the outliers, not everyone else. Everyone else is observing male headship. So also should Corinth. This is in keeping with 1 Cor. 11:16 where Paul writes, “We have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.”

This emphasis from Paul struck me because of discordant notes that I have been hearing lately. Right now, these notes seem to be low rumblings, but I can imagine that they may be getting louder in days ahead. I have heard some people denigrate “biblical manhood and womanhood” as “white” theology that is rooted more in racial stereotypes than in biblical teaching.

While it is true that all of us need to be on guard against unbiblical stereotypes, we need to be very careful that we not throw out the baby with the bathwater. My concern is that some may be in danger of casting aside what the Bible teaches on these things simply because of an alleged association with “whiteness.”

This would be a serious mistake—indeed a grave error putting one outside of the apostolic teaching that Paul intends for “all the churches.” It would be casting aside God’s design in creation. It would also be a rejection of the very truths that God intends for our good and flourishing.

Paul wishes to emphasize that his teaching about male headship is not something that is good for some people but not for others. It’s not merely a cultural construct. No, it is a part of God’s creation design, and it is the pattern that must prevail in every church. If that is true, then we ought to honor the headship norm just as all other faithful churches do. And we ought to beware of any attempt to denigrate this teaching as a mere cultural construct that can be set aside. No, this is the word of God, and as Christians we are duty bound to uphold and cherish this teaching.

Paul says that the headship principle is recognized in all his churches. And so it must be in ours.

Modesty and “The Legging Problem”

Maryann White is the mother of a Notre Dame student, and last week she penned an Op-Ed for the Notre Dame campus newspaper titled “The Legging Problem.” The basic thrust of White’s article is a complaint against immodesty among women. In particular, she has a problem with the legging trend. She writes:

I’m not trying to insult anyone or infringe upon anyone’s rights. I’m just a Catholic mother of four sons with a problem that only girls can solve: leggings.

The emergence of leggings as pants some years ago baffled me. They’re such an unforgiving garment. Last fall, they obtruded painfully on my landscape. I was at Mass at the Basilica with my family. In front of us was a group of young women, all wearing very snug-fitting leggings and all wearing short-waisted tops (so that the lower body was uncovered except for the leggings). Some of them truly looked as though the leggings had been painted on them…

I was ashamed for the young women at Mass. I thought of all the other men around and behind us who couldn’t help but see their behinds. My sons know better than to ogle a woman’s body — certainly when I’m around (and hopefully, also when I’m not). They didn’t stare, and they didn’t comment afterwards. But you couldn’t help but see those blackly naked rear ends. I didn’t want to see them — but they were unavoidable. How much more difficult for young guys to ignore them.

As you can imagine, the students at Notre Dame did not appreciate this Op-Ed. Some students protested the Op-Ed by organizing a “Love Your Leggings Day” for the campus last Tuesday. The Washington Post reports:

A student group, Irish 4 Reproductive Health, similarly declared Tuesday to be “Leggings Pride Day.” On Facebook, the group explained that White’s letter, although well-intentioned, “perpetuates a narrative central to rape culture” by implying that women’s clothing choices are to blame for men’s inappropriate behavior.

Wow. Rape culture? This mother’s simple plea for modesty is supposed to be viewed as advancing rape culture? To be sure, there are lecherous men in the world who are more than willing to blame their evil behavior on how women dress. We can recognize that any such insinuation is a moral dodge and must be repudiated. The sinner has himself to blame for evil choices that he makes, and he cannot rightly blame anyone else for what is his own fault.

Having said that, it is really problematic and sloppy to equate modesty with rape culture. Albert Mohler discussed this on The Briefing this morning and said this:

Illegitimate is the argument that concern for modesty is simply part of that shame culture, that talk of modesty is just a way of shaming females. That is not a legitimate argument. The Bible makes clear it’s not a legitimate argument. The Bible makes clear why we wear coverings for those private parts in the first place. Then the question is, “As we extend from that to appropriate clothing, what would that look like?”…

Wearing clothing that directs attention to those private parts rather than away from those private parts is inherently problematic. It is by biblical definition, whether male or female, immodest. One final thought about this for Christians, one of our responsibilities to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ is to encourage one another to holiness. Everything we do, including our choice of clothing, but including everything else should at the very least be judged by that standard.

I couldn’t agree more. Modesty is not “rape culture.” The way in which we choose to adorn ourselves is morally implicated. In fact, modesty is a part of biblical virtue (1 Tim. 2:9). Kevin DeYoung elaborates:

Modesty operates with the Bible’s negative assessment of public nudity post-Fall. From Adam and Eve scrambling for fig leaves (Gen. 3:10), to the dishonorable nakedness of Noah (Gen. 9:21), to the embarrassingly exposed buttocks of David’s men (2 Sam. 10:4), the Bible knows we inhabit a fallen world in which certain aspects of our bodily selves are meant to be hidden. Indeed, this is precisely what Paul presumes when he speaks of “our unpresentable parts” which must be “treated with greater modesty” (1 Cor. 12:23). There’s a reason momma called them private parts…

Modesty demonstrates to others that we have more important things to offer than good looks and sex appeal. The point of 1 Timothy 2:9 and 1 Peter 3:3-4 is not an absolute prohibition against trying to look nice. The prohibition is against trying so very hard to look good in all the ways that are so relatively unimportant. The question asked of women in these verses–and it certainly applies to men as well–is this: will you grab people’s attention with hair and jewelry and sexy clothes or will your presence in the room be unmistakable because of your Christlike character? Immodest dress tells the world, “I’m not sure I have anything more to offer than this. What you see is really all you get”…

If the Bible is to be believed, this whole business of modesty is not irrelevant to Christian discipleship. Our bodies have been bought with a price. Therefore glorify God with your body (1 Cor. 6:20). Which means we don’t show everyone everything we might think is worth seeing. And it means we won’t be embarrassed to keep most private those things that are most precious. Shame is a powerful category, in the Bible and in our own day.  The key is knowing what things we should actually be ashamed of.

Amen.

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(You can listen to the rest of Albert Mohler’s commentary below or download the audio here.)

Azusa Pacific University removes ban on gay relationships…again.

Last Fall, I wrote about Azusa Pacific University’s (APU) removal of the ban on gay relationships among its students. Days later, the trustees voted to reverse the administration and to reinstate the ban. Today, The San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports that Azusa Pacific University has removed its ban on homosexual relationships yet again. From the report:

Azusa Pacific University again has lifted a ban on LGBTQ relationships on campus.

The university Board of Trustees directed administrators to update the student handbook for undergraduate students, campus spokeswoman Rachel White confirmed. The changes specifically removed language that barred LGBTQ relationships as part of a standing ban on pre-marital sex.

The update, enacted Thursday, demonstrates Azusa Pacific’s commitment to “uniform standards of behavior for all students, applied equally and in a nondiscriminatory fashion,” according to university Provost Mark Stanton.

“APU is an open-enrollment institution, which does not require students to be Christian to attend, and the handbook conveys our commitment to treating everyone with Christ-like care and civility,” Stanton said in a statement. “Our values are unchanged and the APU community remains unequivocally biblical in our Christian evangelical identity.”

Why is the university claiming that its biblical values haven’t changed even as they announce the removal of the ban on homosexual relationships? This is a little bit confusing, but hang with me here as I try to sort out what this change means.

Notice how the school is now parsing things up. The school’s standards of conduct now simply ban “sexual intimacy outside the context of marriage,” where marriage is defined as the union of one man and one woman (10.1 Inappropriate Sexual Behavior). As long as students avoid “sexual intimacy” outside marriage, they are now free to pursue whatever romantic relationships they please—gay, straight, or otherwise. In other words, homosexual romance seems to be permitted so long as no “sexual intimacy” is involved.

Why would the school remove (for the second time!) the ban on homosexual relationships? Provost Mark Stanton says that the change shows that APU is committed to “uniform standards of behavior for all students, applied equally and in a nondiscriminatory fashion” (emphasis mine). Notice the Provost’s concern about discrimination. APU had been under fire from student groups on this very point. These groups not only claimed to identify discriminatory inconsistencies in APU’s student handbook, but they also claimed that these policies put the school out of step with accreditors and licensing agencies.

What was the discriminatory inconsistency? While the handbook banned “homosexual relationships,” it also banned creating a “hostile environment” for any student on the basis of their “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” (“Harassment“). The activists argued that it was inconsistent for APU to allow celibate heterosexual romance while banning celibate homosexual romance. Such a ban resulted in a “hostile environment” for homosexually oriented students, which is a violation of APU’s own community standards, which make “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” into protected classes.

Last Fall, APU’s student government passed a resolution demanding clarification on this point. Among other things, the resolution says:

Students are currently being held at a double standard where romanticized heterosexual relationships are permitted on campus, but a student who is in a romanticized same-sex relationship can be punished; and,

To hold students to equal standards. the Board of Trustees and the administration must either remove the ban on romanticized same-sex relationships or ban all romanticized relationships at Azusa Pacific University…

As an outsider, I hate to say it, but APU made a huge mistake by making sexual orientation and gender identity into protected classes on campus. Because they did that, they made it impossible to ban celibate homosexual relationships while allowing heterosexual ones.

Despite the school’s claim otherwise, there are major problems with this policy, and APU may be stuck with those problems as long as their handbook recognizes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes on campus. To begin with, the Lord Jesus himself teaches us that it is not merely immoral sexual behavior that is sinful but also immoral sexual desires:

Matt. 5:27-30 27 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

Jesus says that it is sin to look at a married woman in order to desire her sexually. There is literally hell to pay if immoral desires are not kept in check. Sexual holiness, therefore, is not merely a matter of deeds committed but of desires felt. Yet Azusa’s new policy seems to be saying that it is okay for romantic homosexual relationships to happen on campus so long as there is no sex. Do they not see how this contradicts what Jesus teaches us about sexual holiness as a matter of the heart?

The fundamental problem here is that Azusa’s student handbook fails to make a moral distinction between homosexual and heterosexual relationships. Even when abstinent, they are not morally equivalent. A heterosexual relationship can and may have the covenant of marriage as its aim and goal. A homosexual relationship can never have marriage as its aim and goal. That means that a homosexual relationship can never be holy or pleasing to God. By definition, it is sinful (Rom. 1:26-27).

One more item is problematic. The school’s standards of conduct prohibit students from cohabitating with the opposite sex (9.0 Cohabitation). Yet students of the same-sex are still permitted to cohabitate—presumably including those students who are in homosexual romantic relationships. Does Azusa believe that it is good for same-sex attracted students to be cohabitating while experiencing sexual desires for one another?

The LGBTQ+ activists who agitated for this change are claiming this as a victory:

They celebrate but not for good reason. This new policy may put APU at peace with protesters, accreditors, and licensing agencies, but it puts the school at odds with faithful biblical Christianity. And that is the main problem. Perhaps it is too much to hope that APU will recognize their error and correct it. I will hope and pray nonetheless that they will.

A Strong Statement on Sexuality from the President of Covenant Theological Seminary

I was really grateful to read a strong and clear statement about human sexuality from the President of Covenant Theological Seminary. You can watch the full statement above. A transcript of the first four minutes of the statement is below.

“Hi, I’m Mark Dalbey, President of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. I’m here today to respond to a number of questions and concerns that we have received about our commitment to biblical sexual ethics in light of a conference that was held in St. Louis last summer called Revoice. Here’s what we believe about biblical sexuality.

Marriage is to be between one man and one woman. Sexual intimacy is only to be expressed in such a marriage. Homosexual desire is a result of the fall. It’s a sinful desire that is to be mortified and resisted and in no way dignified. Homosexual lust, homosexual intimate behavior is sin and condemned by God.

As to the Revoice conference, Covenant Seminary does not endorse, promote, or have a role in the Revoice conference. We do not agree with all of the views that were shared or taught at the Revoice conference. Dr Sklar, Old Testament professor and Vice President of Academics, who has two commentaries on the book of Leviticus, was asked to speak and did speak on Leviticus 18 and 20 and the continuing relevance in God’s moral law of forbidding homosexual lust and behavior. Covenant Seminary does not advocate for queer theology, Covenant Seminary does not teach that a person should identify as a gay Christian, and Covenant Seminary will not have any of our faculty speaking at the 2019 Revoice conference.

Much of what is being said about Covenant Seminary is [a] sinful, slanderous, violation of the ninth commandment which teaches in the Larger Catechism that we should promote and preserve the good name of our neighbor and ourselves when necessary. Sadly, it is necessary for Covenant Seminary to do this given that we have been under these slanderous attacks.

Here is what we teach our students about how to relate to homosexual people who are unbelievers. We teach them that they are to hold uncompromisingly to the biblical sexual ethics. We also teach them that they are to love unbelievers as those made in the image of God, that they are to recognize that we are fellow sinners ourselves as we seek to communicate the good news of the saving and transforming power of the gospel to people involved in a gay lifestyle. Christians are to build relationships with unbelievers of all kinds, including those who are homosexuals, and we are to live out the gospel call to not only love God but to love our neighbor as ambassadors of Jesus Christ. Our churches should be promoting this. We teach our students to love people well and to communicate the unchanging truth of God’s word in winsome ways that the Holy Spirit might change hearts and bring people to Christ.

We also teach our students as they minister to fellow believers who have all kinds of struggles including struggle with same-sex attraction and temptations that we are to love them and pastorally care for them. We are to disciple them by using the ordinary means of grace that they might grow in Christlikeness and have strength to resist ongoing temptation. We also teach our students that they are all to find their core identity in Christ and not with whatever particular sinful struggle they may have. Our churches should welcome fellow believers who have ongoing temptation and struggle with same-sex attraction to be full members of the body of Christ that will be able to exercise their gifts and that also would benefit from the ministry of others in the church.”

Women and children first? Absolutely.

I’ve been enjoying Andrew Roberts’ recent biography of Winston Churchill titled Churchill: Walking with Destiny. The book includes a letter in which Churchill opines about the sinking of the Titanic and about how proud he was that the men on the ship put women and children onto the lifeboats first. Churchill said that the whole event “reflects nothing but honour upon our civilization.” His prose is grandiose but stirring:

I cannot help feeling proud of our race and its traditions as proved by this event. Boatloads of women and children tossing on the sea safe and sound — and the rest — silence. Honour to their memory. In spite of all the inequalities and artificialities of our modern life, at the bottom — tested to its foundations, our civilization is humane, Christian, and absolutely democratic. How differently Imperial Rome or Ancient Greece would have settled the problem. The swells and potentates would have gone off with their concubines and pet slaves and soldier guards, and . . . whoever could bribe the crew would have had the preference and the rest could go to hell. But such ethics could neither build Titanics with science nor lose them with honour.’

I can’t help but wonder if men in 2019 would do what those men did over one hundred years ago. Would they put the women and children into the lifeboats first? Or would the elbow their own way to safety? In any case, what an act of valor on the part of these men. Churchill is right. The whole event reflects honor on that civilization.

When being a Christian isn’t “decent” anymore

I woke up this morning to a troubling Op-Ed in The Washington Post by Cynthia Nixon. The entire article is a call for an end to civility toward anyone who holds Christian convictions about sexuality. In particular, the essay responds to the fact that former Vice-President Joe Biden recently referred to current Vice-President Mike Pence as a “decent man.” Nixon unloads on Biden for this flash of tolerance and civility, arguing that Mike Pence’s Christian convictions about sexuality are worthy of the severest public outrage and opprobrium. She writes,

I think it’s important to explain why calling Pence “a decent guy” is an affront to the real meaning of the word….

These are not the actions of a decent man. The fact that Pence does vile, hateful things while well-coiffed and calm doesn’t make him decent; it makes him insidious and dangerous. Respecting each other’s rights and humanity is what makes us civilized — not keeping a civil tone while doing the opposite.

It’s easy to say nice things about Pence when you’re not personally threatened by his agenda. If Biden were being directly attacked in the same way that our community is, I think he would see Pence from a very different vantage point…

And then she ends with this chilling conclusion:

When you’re fighting for the rights of marginalized communities who are under attack, it’s okay to stop being polite. This is not a time for hollow civility. This is a time to fight. If Democrats are too wedded to the collegiality of the Senate dining room to call out the Republicans who espouse homophobia, how are we ever going to stop them?

It is hard to imagine that The Washington Post would allow this kind of open animus against adherents of any other point of view. Can you imagine an Op-Ed arguing that it’s time to toss civility aside and embrace open animus towards anyone who supports, say, the Green New Deal? And yet, here it appears as a matter of course that it is open season on Christians who dare to affirm what the Bible teaches about sexual ethics.

This is the new reality for Christians who hold the line on biblical sexual ethics, and I don’t see any signs of things letting up. On the contrary, this kind of open animus only seems to be spreading. In light of this, it is good for Christians to remember a few things:

1. The Lord Jesus has prepared us for this.

In Matthew 10, Jesus prepares his disciples for opposition to their mission. The entire chapter is bracing, not least because Jesus is so forthright about what his disciples should expect: “And you will be hated by all on account of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved” (Matt. 10:22). Jesus told us that we would face open animus, and we would do well to prepare ourselves for the kind of lives Jesus told us that his disciples would have. This is what we signed up for. “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16).

2. We must not respond in kind.

Those who oppose the Christian message will increasingly call for an end of civility toward Christian conviction. The rallying will become more brazen. As it does, we must commit ourselves not to respond in kind.

“Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same?” (Matt. 5:44-46)

We need to be ready to love our neighbors and our enemies and to bear witness in a culture that is increasingly hostile toward us. Christians may someday face fines and other penalties for their convictions on marriage. Our churches may eventually lose tax exempt status. Any number of negative outcomes are possible in the approaching conflagration. Ours will likely be a costly love and a costly witness. But this is precisely the kind of discipleship that Jesus has called all of us to, and we must never return evil for evil (Rom. 12:17).

3. It will be worth it.

Every one of us will be tempted to fudge the message in order to avoid conflict. Don’t do it. Being faithful to Jesus and his word will be worth it no matter what it costs us to do so. We have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood (Heb. 12:4), and I don’t see that coming any time soon. But even if it were to come to that, it would be worth even losing our lives for the sake of Christ and his word. No matter what we suffer or what we give up for Christ, it will be restored to us and then some in the age to come. “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it” (Matt. 16:25).

The opposition is increasing. Jesus has prepared us. Let’s be ready.

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