Not For the Faint at Heart: Church Planting and Childhood Illness

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Where to begin…?  Anyone who has served alongside me in ministry knows that I am constantly quoting or blurting out song lyrics with whatever conversation I am having.  Typically, I am doing so in song.  It’s just not right to do it without singing it!!  So, in my typical fashion, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”

It has been well over a year since my last post.  We have had a very challenging 18 months. At the end of last summer, 2014, I was let go from my worship pastor position at Heartland.  The church, for financial reasons, had decided to go in a different direction and were cutting my position.  I have since served as a guest worship leader for a four month stent to close out 2014 at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Carlinville, IL.  From there I went to Logan Street Baptist Church in Mt. Vernon, IL, where I have been serving ever since as Interim Worship & Media Pastor.  We are very blessed to be able to serve with such a great group of believers from Carlinville and Mt. Vernon, but God is bringing us back close to our home.

For well over 9 years God has been showing me a lot about church administration and governance.  I have seen something that would fit under a “what to do” category and I’ve seen a lot of things that would fall into a “what not to do” heading.  These last 4 1/2 years I have prayed and wrestled with the Lord.   Finally, after being challenged by a fellow pastor and asked what I was running from, I have fully surrendered to the Lord’s call and will be planting a church in the greater Godfrey area.  It has been interesting last couple of months as I have been walking through a church planting assessment process with the North American Mission Board.  There are so many things that God is teaching me.

In the last 5 years, I’ve not spoken a word about this with anyone other than my wife, until this past spring.  I decided to bounce the idea off of one of my closest friends.  The prevailing reason behind my decision to share this was to get confirmation that I was crazy and that God wouldn’t call a “worship pastor” to plant a church.  How crazy is it then, that my dear friend of almost 20 years was so excited for me and affirmed this call upon my life from their observations of my ministry.  I will always remember one of the biggest things he said to me, “Isaac, when you finally give into the Lord’s call, be prepared for great attacks from the adversary.”

A few months later, our youngest daughter, LilyGrace [pictured above] was diagnosed with a bone tumor in her right tibia.  Doctors were very concerned.  It was a very serious and scary situation.  We have later found out that she has been diagnosed with Fibrous Dysplasia, Scoliosis and Hyper Mobility Disorder.  This is still a very serious situation and we have seen several doctors and most of them are baffled as Fibrous Dysplasia is a rare disease and to top it off, LilyGrace has an even rarer type of Fibrous Dysplasia.  We have had a failed surgery that was an attempt to relieve chronic pain and provide stability to her bone.  We are waiting to the end of November so that we can spend 3 days to a week at Shriner’s Hospital in St. Louis to determine other possible treatments and prognosis.

Since the failed surgery in September a second tumor has been found in her right femur.  At this point, they have called in a Pediatric Oncologist.  LilyGrace is scheduled for another MRI and X-ray this Friday evening.  In addition to all of these developments with LilyGrace, I have put in my notice at Logan Street so that I can hopefully, find full-time employment closer to home beginning in January.  We continue to pray for healing for LilyGrace and that He would provide a stable income to help relieve that burden from our family as we continue this journey.

As a family, we’ve studied the life of Job and have always been encouraged by His faith and trust in the Lord.  I never thought that the advice my friend gave me about the adversary, would begin this quickly, let alone attacks on my children.  How does this all relate to church planting?  I’m glad you asked.  God’s Word tells us that “all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purposes.”  God will use this situation with LilyGrace and how we respond through the journey to bring honor and glory to Him.

I’ve been asked if we will stop our efforts at planting a church or at least put it on hold several different times now.  Each time, while tempted to say, “yes,” I am more emboldened and encouraged to press on, towards the prize and finish strong.  While my family will always come first and should always come first, God can use this journey for us to share His love with those He brings in our path.  Church planting is about planting seeds of the gospel and discipling believers in the faith so that they, too may go out, share the gospel and disciple others.  Jesus centered/focused relationships is a a primary goal and desire for my church plant.

Lynette and I believe, wholeheartedly that God will use LilyGrace and her medical condition to develop relationships with people in our community.  Authentic relationships that will encourage, inspire, challenge and sharpen not only me but my family and those whom we interact with.  It is our desire to be used of God to further His Kingdom and further grow His church, where we are planted.

Lynette and I would like to ask you to join us in prayer for this new direction as we follow His call to plant a church.  We invite you to join us to continue to pray for LilyGrace and that God would bring a healing to her body.  We pray that He will use her to further His kingdom.  We pray that she would be able to find rest and security in the arms of Jesus Christ.  We pray that He would give understanding and patience to Abbi and Eli as they too are greatly affected by this diagnosis and new direction.  Pray that God will give them compassion and mercy to extend to LilyGrace, Lynette and me; when our patience and compassion has failed.  Pray for those folks that will come into contact with our family.  Pray that God will already begin softening the hearts and preparing them to receive His gift of love.  Pray that we will be diligent in sharing His love, Jesus Christ with them.

I will leave you with one final thought:
Church planting and childhood illness shouldn’t go hand in hand.  But, when they do,
trust that the Almighty is big enough to handle it.  Have faith that He who has called
you to great and mighty things will complete what He started in you.  Also,
remember to gird up your loins and prepare yourself for the battle.  Church planting
and childhood illness are not for the faint of heart.

God’s blessings and peace be to you all.

Isaac

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Congregational Singing: To Sing or Not To Sing…

To sing or not to sing… that is NOT the question.  Over the 20 years that I have been leading congregational worship services I have been faced with a very perplexing question:  “Why is our congregation not singing?”  To which I have been given several suggestions of what “I should do” to entice “them” to sing.  Many of the comments range from subtle suggestions of their preferred style or taste in music to the very blatant responses regarding instrumentation (i.e. drums, guitar or …wait for it… organ), certain voices on microphone or off microphone.  The suggestions pour in like sweet tea in a glass of ice on a hot summer day:  if you don’t put an end to it soon you will have an empty pitcher and no more to share and no one to share it with.

As a worship pastor/minister of music I struggle with many of these same thoughts.  Why is it that our congregation doesn’t sing? What if I add more “traditional” music or what if I add more “contemporary” music?  What if we turn off the screens and sing directly from the hymnal and only the hymnal?  What if, what if, what if…  Please.  Are you seriously going to tell me that the congregation will sing if you give them what they want to sing?  PAUSE RIGHT THERE!!  I have heard this argument before and I have personally tried this in many churches.  It is not true.  It is a fallacy.  For every person you gain, singing a song they like, you lose another one because you’re singing a song they don’t like.

Before I go any farther I’d like to ask you to take a quick poll. 

In order to fully understand congregational singing we have to know where it came from.  There are many passages in both the Old and New Testaments that talk about singing to the Lord.  Many of these passages refer to singing a new song to the Lord.  Yes, I said, um, I mean God said – a “NEW” song.  But in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 do tell us that we are to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  But it doesn’t end there.  We are not only to sing those types of songs but to sing them to God and to each other,  i.e. congregational singing.  It doesn’t say, “come to church and let somebody else sing those songs to me and for me.”  If we know what the Bible says about these things and we still refuse to sing then we either don’t believe God’s Word, God Himself or believe that it was just a suggestion and not actually a command.  Either way we have moved the focus from singing to God to our own selfish desires of style and type of music.

Are you still with me?  I hope so.  The point is this: not whether to sing or not to sing but – who is the singing for?  The singing is not necessarily for me or you.  It’s first and primary focus is to glorify the Lord and give Him all of the worth that He is do.  How many of you have every sung to your children when putting them to sleep?  Have you ever been so happy that you whistled a tune or you made up some lyrics and sang a melody (even if it was by yourself)?  That is an expression of joy and gratitude.  An expression of love and compassion.  God wants His children to sing to Him.  To give Him praise and glory.  So, you can see that the focus of congregational singing should be on God, to God and for God not our selfish preferences.

Please understand I am not saying that familiarity and knowledge of songs is not important to aid in congregational singing.  However, familiarity and knowledge of a song should not dictate or equate our preferences.  As a worship leader, let me just say that there are many Sunday’s that I sing songs that I personally don’t care for or even like.  Yes, the lyrics are uplifting and some even straight from Bible, but the tune or the style that it has found itself is not my preferred style of music.  Familiarity and knowledge of songs alone can and will assist a congregation in its ability to sing together.  Just be careful not to let the argument slip into a preferential war.

As far as getting a congregation to sing I conducted an experiment.  Through the course of approximately 6 months we utilized only hymns from the hymnal and sang them with fervor as we lead.  Unfortunately, there was no increase of congregational singing.  For a couple of the services we even left off the screens and encouraged the congregation to pick up the hymnal and sing.  A few folks may have sung out more than normal but we did not inspire more people to sing.  That leads me to the conclusion that the average church goer has given over their responsibility to praise God in song to the people on the platform.  This is where I would like to point you to another article that was written by a man named Bob Kauflin.  You can find his article by clicking on this link:  http://www.worshipmatters.com/2014/02/10/i-worship-god-by-singing-you-should-too/

Please note that I am not endorsing worshipmatters.com as the go to authority on Scripture.  That authority is given to God through the working of the Holy Spirit.  It is well worth the read and I pray that this post has challenged you to truly think about your part/responsibility in congregational singing.  So if “to sing or not to sing is not the question” then what is the question.  The correct question regarding congregational singing and your responsibility is:  “Am I going to be obedient to God’s commands and sing to Him with all of my heart?”

I pray that it has challenged you to get into God’s Word and search for what God has said to His children, the church about singing to Him.  God bless you as you continue to your journey as a disciple of Christ.

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Peace be Still – Piece of Steel

picture found at Fox2Now.com regarding Conceal to Carry story in Illinois, Gov. Quinn

Events from this evening remind me of why I support the 2nd Amendment.  I walked in on a home invasion this evening.  It all started when I just arrived at church for an evening of ministry and service when we received a phone call from ADT monitoring systems.  I was slightly upset thinking that Beignet (our dog) had gotten out of her room and had set off one of the motion detectors.  So, Abbi, Eli and I went to the house to reset the alarm and put Beignet back in her room.  I had discernment enough to have Abbi and Eli stay in the car until I reset the alarm.  As I entered the front door I had this overwhelming sense to stand still and not move.  Then I heard the alarm say, “back door open.”  I waited a few minutes and moved on into the kitchen and living room and noticed our back door was open.  Beignet had not gotten out but someone had entered our home.

 

I called ADT back and they gave me a run down of the report.  It is evident that our home was breached.  It appears as though nothing has been taken from our home.  Still not sure how exactly the got in through the back door.  We have been very careful about making sure our doors were locked but one never knows for sure.  We had a visit from a couple of fine deputies of Madison County Sheriff’s department and checked out our entire house.

After we felt there was nothing more for us to do and that had secured the home again we headed back to church.  While we were on our way back Lynette and I thanked God that it appears nothing was taken.  We are thankful that I had the kids stay in the car.  We are thankful that nobody got hurt.  I am thankful that God is our Protector and our source of security.  I am also very grateful that I live in the United States of America and that we have been blessed with the 2nd Amendment.

From a very early age, my dad taught me how to properly use guns and to respect the power of firearms.  I have been waiting now for my new FOID card to arrive so that I can teach Lynette and my children how to properly use a weapon for self-defense and also respect the power and responsibility that come with owning a gun.  So, Illinois, please take care of business and get Lynette’s and my FOID cards to us as soon as possible.  I will also say that I am very much in favor of a conceal to carry law in Illinois, the only state currently without some level of conceal to carry provision/law.

Those of you who know me well know that I love a good laugh and even though this is a serious matter, I am very blessed that it turned out the way it did.  It is only because of God’s grace that things turned out this way.  When I was sharing this with the adult choir tonight after rehearsal I was asked if I had a baseball bat that I could keep at home for protection.  Being the person that I am, I remembered a Madea movie and shared with them one of my favorite quotes – Madea is sharing her secret to having peace in potentially dangerous situations and she says, Jesus said, peace be still and therefore I keeps me a piece of steel on my person.  In other words she keeps her “piece” (gun) on her at all times.

I can’t help but wonder if I had my piece with me when I entered my home tonight, I know that I would have had more confidence in entering my own home, while my security alarm was going off.  The 2nd Amendment isn’t just for protecting oneself in a home invasion or for hunting purposes but against invasions foreign and domestic.  My prayer is that through my encounter tonight that people become more aware and educated on why we have the 2nd Amendment.  God bless America!

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Fully Surrendered

shiftworship.com

At an early age I began serving in the local church. I remember planning and leading worship in our local church when I was a sophomore in high school. I often would lead worship from the piano and also worked with the adult choir. With that beginning I knew that I would always be serving in the local church but longed for something more. It’s not about a bigger church or a bigger check it’s about sharing what God has done in my life with those whom He places in my path.

I surrendered to full-time ministry when I was still in high school but didn’t realize how that would play out until my freshman year of college.  At that point I knew God had called me into the worship ministry.  He had gifted me with certain talents and skills as well as certain characteristics needed for the stresses and requirements of such a calling.  While at university I met the lady who would be my help mate and my partner in ministry, the lovely and fabulous Lynette Jackson.  She has been so wonderful in supporting my calling and realizing that it isn’t only my calling but it is “our calling.”

Lynette and I always knew that we would be active in a church and are open to going anywhere God might lead.  We naturally assumed it would always be within the confines of a specific local church.  However, these past 18 months or so we have been very restless.  I’ve often thought, “God what exactly is it that you are doing and what am I to do with these dreams and desires that you have given me?”

As God continues to develop my gifts He is also showing me that I have His testimony to share for His glory.  I quickly figured out that while I had surrendered to full-time ministry, I had limited God by thinking that it would always be within the confines of the local church walls.  However, as He has brought me to my knees, once again, I have discovered that God has a larger plan for our ministry.  Lynette has been trying to share this with me for several years, but I just didn’t get it.  I was so focused on local ministry that I was missing out on what larger blessings God has waiting for us.

What exactly does all of this mean?  Well, to be honest we are still walking that path.  We know that it involves making my very first CD.  I have been in contact with some folks within the music industry and have been very encouraged to continue moving forward.  The next step is to meet with an artist and composer/musician who will help me try to focus on what it is that the Lord wants me to share with this first project.  Then after that we will continue to follow God’s leading, one step at a time.

We are not looking to leave our current church as we believe that He has us here for a reason and plan to be here until He moves us along.  We know that the things God is teaching us comes directly from our ministry with folks at Heartland.  We are learning that God has us where we are for certain reasons and that He is the one who expands our boundaries of ministry.  Please continue to pray for us as we  follow His leading.  Pray that as we pursue this CD project, He will be glorified.  It’s not about us, but it is about His continued sovereignty, provision and grace.

Until next time…

 

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Growing a Healthy Ministry

Could it be possible that I am writing more than one post in less than 24 hours?  I hope you will lend your ear and eyes my way once more…

To all of my friends in ministry, how much time have you spent this past year asking God to increase your worship team?  I know that in the past that was my focus, “more folks on the team.”  As God began to answer that prayer I realized that I might have been more specific in my prayer time.  As is the case in several places that I have served, bigger is not the answer.  I currently am blessed to work with a wonderful group of musicians who love and fear the Lord.  Our team has seen growth spurts and growth stunts.  We have experienced a lot of frustration and turmoil as we sought to “grow” the team, all of which was new to me as a worship pastor.  God had always blessed me with a very healthy worship team.  I have always had people wanting to join the team and become heavily involved.

SIDE NOTE:  As I write this post I am thinking about all of those folks whom I have had the privilege of serving in ministry with and see how they have nurtured and encouraged me in my walk with the Lord and to them I am extremely grateful.  Without that influence in our lives on a consistent and daily regimen we have a much harder time becoming and staying healthy in our walk with the Lord.

Recently, I have experienced something that has been hard to learn but extremely necessary to learn as a pastor.  Pretty much everyone in ministry knows about Matthew 18 and how it instructs us to handle conflict resolution but how many of us are actually practicing it?  I attended a break out session at the National Worship Leader Conference in Leawood, Kansas this past July and had an opportunity to talk with author and pastor Rory Noland.  I shared with him some of the struggles we were having within our team.  Please note that we were not dealing with any immoral issues within our group or habitual sinning but the cohesiveness of our team.  Becoming one voice and one spirit as we lead the saints to the throne room on a weekly basis was a struggle for us.  Pastor Noland was very gracious and considerate as he shared with me some ideas.  He asked me if I had the members sign a worship covenant?  Yes, I have always had worship team covenants at every church I’ve served.  Did I demand excellence?  Always, demand excellence – not perfection.  After another 40-45 minutes of his peeking into my ministry and asking very poignant questions I began to ponder, “I’m two for two, could it be that Rory Noland doesn’t have any advice for me.”  Then he reached into his bag and pulled out His own copy of his latest book, “Worship on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

I began to wonder if he was fixing to sell me an answer.  However, he quickly told me that the conference and the book store had completely sold out of this book but he felt it was for me and our team.  He knew I was a fan because I had already told him I have several copies of his other books concerning worship leaders and pastors.  As Pastor Noland handed me his book he asked me one more question, “Isaac, have you been challenging your team.”  I was very quick to respond, “Yes, all the time.”  His response while measured and precise was softly spoken, “Spiritually, are you challenging them spiritually and holding them accountable.”  DUH – Who does he think he is to admonish me and at a worship conference no less.  “Yes, I am challenging them spiritually,” I thought to myself.  But then things started to click.  I had been challenging them spiritually but not in the same way as I had been at other churches.

I had never been afraid to challenge my worship teams spiritually or musically before.  However, this is the first time I had an unexpected response.  I know that you are never going to get 100% commitment from everyone you have on your team.  As I carried this new revelation with me home I began asking God to show me what I needed to do to help our team be spiritually healthy not larger.

At that conference I had the privilege of having 5 of our worship team members with me.  It was wonderful to see how they were able to bring back the enthusiasm, encouragement, vision and passion for worshipping a risen Lord as I had from past conferences.  It also gave me the opportunity to invite them into the discussion as well.  Spiritual growth, accountability and commitment are three major components that have to be present in every single member of your worship team.  Don’t allow any of those areas to slide.  I have experienced what happens when I relax and become loose with any one of those three components.  I was quickly realizing that I had allowed the fear of having a smaller team (and what that may look like to the church) keep me from allowing our team to become a spiritually healthy team.

After several weeks in prayer, I did something that I have always done before with the worship team but this time it was different.  My focus was on our ability as a team to really help the saints sit at Jesus’ feet even if only on Sunday morning.  I could no longer allow the desire for a bigger team effect our ability to usher the body of Christ before His throne on a weekly basis.  Pastor Noland’s book “Worship On Earth As It Is In Heaven” has helped me to see that.  As my approach to the team changed so did its composition.  We are a smaller team now but we have a solid foundation.  They are asking me what’s next.  They are excited about being held to a higher standard and being accountable to one another.  I also extended my scope of my worship team to include all of our worship leaders, not just the praise team.

Immediately God began showing my that the worship team He had given me was much larger than I was seeing.  We have a gentle spirit within our team and God is really maturing us and getting us very healthy. I guess the whole reason for this diatribe is this:  In order to “grow” a healthy ministry, most of the time, God has to whittle us down to the core and then fire us together.  It is much easier to build on a solid foundation than an uneven, shaky, and cracked one.

I am looking forward to many more years of service with our worship team at Heartland.  I believe God has mighty things in store for His kingdom.  I pray that He will allow us to be a part of that Kingdom growth.

Pastor Isaac

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Get A New Perspective

One thing that always baffles me is perspective.  I have recently dealt with many different perspectives through process of one of our most recent journeys.  It is interesting to see how many different perspectives people can have concerning decisions in your life and/or other’s lives.  Many things shape each of our own, personal perspectives.  Things like, culture, finances, age, maturity, relationship status (married, single, divorced, widowed), religious persuasions and theology.  However, the one thing that I believe greatly impacts our perspective the most is gossip.

While many of us strive to tame the tongue or silence the sword we often still give audience to gossip with our ears.  I realize right about now you are thinking, “didn’t the title of this post say ‘Get a New Perspective’?”  The answer to your questions is, “Yes!  Yes, it did!”  Let me share with you my thoughts and observations over the past several months, look back on some things in your life that you have observed while I also share.  How many times have you seen folks get so bent out of shape simply because the “heard” that someone did or said something that they don’t appreciate?  When this happens, as humans, we tend to over react and start forming our very own, rigid and 95% of the time wrong perspectives of others.  Other times people have been told bits and pieces of true events and then they piece them together with their own thoughts about how it “went down.”

Trust me when I say, “been there – done that.”  I am not writing this blog because I am trying to call anyone specific person out.  I too have fallen victim to this ancient snare of tongue and misinformed thoughts and words.  What makes this worse is that even when we are presented with the Truth or facts as I like to call them, we continue to harbor ill feelings or bad “perspectives” of those involved.  So, how do we try to remedy these false perspectives into godly perspectives.

First of all, pray about those things in which you have perceived something to be true when it is actually false.  Ask God to reveal to you the truth and show you the direction to move forward and don’t dwell in the past.

Secondly, whatever the issue(s) is(are) go to those involved and ask them to forgive you for giving false witness about the events to others whom you have “shared” your concern with.  As I continue to grow in the Lord and grow in years I have realized that time is not on our side.  The scriptures tell us “not to let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26).  I believe this is true even when we may not be angry, but just bothered by something or someone.  Find reconciliation while it may yet be found.  This is sometimes the hardest step to accomplish.  I find that admitting to the Lord and asking Him to forgive me is sometimes easier than asking another “mortal” to forgive me.  I can let God know that I am weak and humble, but letting another human know I am sorry or WRONG?!?!  That just isn’t right, is it?  Try it.  You will be surprised how much better you will feel to have your heart clean before God and our brothers in Christ.

The final thing that we need to do to get a new perspective is to quit stepping into situations in which we will be pulled into a “chat session” about someone or something.  It is ok to say, “Hey, let’s change the subject.”  Or simply walk away.  You might be surprised at how by simply walking away from a conversation will spur in others the thought that they probably shouldn’t be discussing those things.

One other piece of advice that my lovely wife is still teaching me, “Just because we don’t agree on something doesn’t mean that I am a bad person or completely wrong on everything else in life.”

That’s about it for today.  I pray that you are meeting God in His Word and on your knees in prayer.  Oh, and don’t forget to worship Him throughout your entire day and week.  Let me know what you thought of this post or any of the others I have.  I’d love the feedback.

Pastor Isaac

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Music Camp 2012 News

Alright, it is getting close to registration time to begin for this year’s Music Camp at Heartland Baptist Church.  We have already selected the musical and are getting classes in place for a very complete registration.  This year at registration the campers and parents will be able to see what the weeks lunch menu will be, what specialty classes are being offered and even have the opportunity to register for those classes before they complete their camp registration form.  The registration will be open and available online at heartlandbc.net by March 1st.

The 2012 Music Camp musical will be The WORD Connection by Ami Sandstrom Shroyer and Michael Shroyer.  It is published by DoveTail Music a division of LifeWay Worship out of Nashville, Tennessee.  Here is an excerpt from the foreword of the musical:

“Welcome to the game show, The WORD Connection.  Hosed by Remi M. Burr, this game takes contestants through a series of rounds to test how well they know and understand the connection between our everyday lives and the Word of God.  The game takes us through different rounds and sponsor breaks until we reach the final round, and find out which contestant is crowned The Ultimate WORD Connector.  Round 1 demonstrates the character of GOd and contestants learn how to NAME HIM.  Round 2 shows why it is important to THANK HIM in both good times and bad.  Round 3 presents contestants with a call to action as they ASK HIM to help them combat some unwise choices by choosing what God’s Word says.  Finally, in The Final Round we will see the ultimate purpose of The WORD Connection as a surprise twist brings the game to an end.  Hopefully, every viewer, every fan, and even YOU will ‘Discover The WORD Connection!'”

We are looking for folks to join us in this endeavor.  If you would like to know more about Heartland’s Music Camp 2012 please contact me or the church office at 618.462.1276 and inquire about Music Camp 2012, The WORD Connection.

 

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