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Archive for April, 2014


Don’t Dictate to God

 

 

Refer to Step 3: I accept that the responsibility for getting back on track is mine and no one else’s.

 

 

 

Listening to God is a firsthand experience . . . God invites you to vacation in His splendor. He invites you to feel the touch of His hand. He invited you to feast at His table. He wants to spend time with you.

—Max Lucado

 

When your life unravels, as it does for most of us at one time or another, you start asking tough but important questions:

  • Why did this have to happen?
  • What does God expect from me now?
  • Is God really in charge?
  • Why hasn’t He answered my prayers?

It is when you reach the point of asking questions like these—and not before—that God can finally have His way with you.

This is because you have ceased being completely self-absorbed. Until this happens, God hasn’t been able to get your attention—not like when the bottom drops out. Until then, you have had too many goals of your own to seek, and your purpose has been self-fulfillment, regardless of what God’s purpose has been.

When we begin our walk with the Lord, we are certain He has noble, wonderful things in store for us, and failure is never a part of His plan. We’re certain of it. What we don’t count on is that He sees things differently than we do and that He knows us better than we know ourselves.

He wants a relationship with us—one where He does more than fulfill our petulant requests like an indulgent parent, spoiling us in the process. He desires strong men and women—not spoiled brats who demand their way about everything, throwing spiritual tantrums when they are refused.

If you’ve been knocked off your feet, it may have been good for you. It may have been precisely what you needed. God has a substantial investment in you, and He pays careful attention to each of His projects. Remember, you do not belong to yourself. You belong to the Lord. Start talking to God rather than dictating to Him.

 

Guard you steps as you go to the house of God, and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil. (Ecclesiastes 5:1)

Jack Watts

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Father,

Sometimes, I’m so afraid

My skin grows cold and I can hardly breathe.

I feel so helpless and cut off—even from You.

I’m afraid of so many things—of people,

Of places, and especially of being isolated.

Death and economic insecurity terrify me.

Lord, the list never seems to end,

And I am powerless to calm my fears,

Which rob me of sleep and of my serenity.

Without Your help—without Your assistance—

I fear that imminent destruction

Will be my destiny and my portion in life.

I am so consumed with fear that it’s hard

To hear Your voice, which would reassure me.

In my heart, I know You are my refuge.

You are my fortress, and I can trust You completely.

In You, I am safe and sheltered from the storm,

Which threatens every aspect of my being.

Help me to stand tall, without shrinking away,

Dreading the future and all that it might hold.

Calm my fears, and teach me to face life confidently.

Jack Watts

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Father: 

I refuse to learn the lesson I’m being taught.

It’s who I am, or—at least—the way I’ve become.

Undaunted, You turn the pressure up further,

And I wince from the discomfort,

But I still will not yield—not yet.

I still have so much fight left in me.

I cannot submit; I will not submit.

Journal: Write about your stubbornness and what it has required to get you to yield your will to God.

 

If you choose to follow your own path, you will have to deal with the painful consequences of your actions in your own way. To help cope with the results of a poor decision, you may choose to medicate your pain with alcohol, inappropriate sexual relationships, prescription medications, pornography, or overeating. Each provides a temporary, satisfying escape; but none of it works well—or for long. In the end, all you will have accomplished is the acquisition of an additional problem with no solution to the original one.

Question: In your life, what were the self-defeating behaviors you used to medicate your pain? Being perfectly honest, do you still resort to them? If not, on a scale of 1-to-10, how tempted are you to return to them?

 

In the aftermath of spiritual abuse, your eyes become opened. You see things differently—with much more clarity and far less naïveté. It’s like the blinders have been removed, and you realize the direction you’ve been traveling will not take you to the place you believed you were going.

Journal: Write about what it was like when you had the blinders removed from you.

 

Then, when people’s prayers aren’t answered in the way they expect, which is frequent, they chafe and question whether God really cares about them at all. They wonder if He is really active in their lives, rather than reflecting about what He may really desires.

Question: Does this sound familiar? If so, it’s a problem that occurs routinely, creating significant faith problems for many. The problem is that the mindset behind whining, plaintive prayers isn’t consistent with God’s desires. Remember, making demands of God is not praying. On a scale of 1-to-10, how plaintive are your prayers. If you answered 5 or above, you have some work to do.

 

Over the years, in a very subtle, insidious way, we have become unwilling to stand firmly in the face of a culture that has grown increasingly hostile toward Christianity, choosing instead to wring our hands in despair. Wanting to appear enlightened by accepting the beliefs of others—regardless of what they might be—we have allowed our convictions to be trumped by the political correctness of our culture.

Journal: React to the paragraph above, either positively or negatively, listing at least three points to support your position.

Jack Watts

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We’re Not as Okay as We Think.

 

 

Refer to Step 11: I make a commitment to nurture my relationship with God, asking Him to reveal His will to me as well as the power to carry it out.

 

 

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.

—C. S. Lewis

 

 

As Christians, have the mistaken notion that we are okay the way we are, regardless of how we act, how we treat others, or what the state of our mind may be. We want to believe that being wishy-washy is acceptable to God and to everybody else. We want to be strong Christians, while at the same time making certain we don’t offend anyone with our beliefs. In this way, we are more culturally Christian than committed followers of Christ.

If this was as bad as it was, it would be one thing; but it’s actually worse than this. Over the years, in a very subtle, insidious way, we have become unwilling to stand firmly in the face of a culture that has grown increasingly hostile toward Christianity, choosing instead to wring our hands in despair. Wanting to appear enlightened by accepting the beliefs of others—regardless of what they might be—we have allowed our convictions to be trumped by the political correctness of our culture.

As men, we have lost our rocks and, as women, we have lost our focus. We blame the liberals for the decline in our society, while never taking a good, hard, penetrating look at ourselves. We share emails, posts, and Tweets by the thousands, reminding us about the “good old days,” while never considering that we are more responsible for the societal decline we lament than the liberals and Progressives we repeatedly castigate.

Perhaps we should look back to the behavior of our Founding Fathers. During the Colonial and Revolutionary era, they routinely held days of fasting and prayer to try and determine the leading of Almighty God. There were also days of repentance during this period, which would never be acceptable to today’s lukewarm Christians, who are convinced that they are fine just the way they are. Although repentance might offend the politically correct crowd and some weak-willed Christians, it would never offend the Lord.

 

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the Last Days that you have stored up your treasure! (James 5:1-3)

Jack Watts

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What Should You Pray for?

 

 

Refer to Step 9:I humbly ask God to change anything He desires.

 

 

Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing ofyour work shall be no miracle, but you shall be the miracle.

—Phillips Brooks

 

When a seemingly insurmountable difficulty comes into your life, what do you do? If you’re like most people, especially Christians, you pray about it. That’s a given but, what exactly do you pray for?

Most pray for God to spare them from what’s about to happen—either from the consequences of their actions or those of others. That’s the natural human response. People want the Lord to rescue them from whatever unpleasantness is about to occur. When they pray, they ask, whine, and even beg, as they plead their case in deprecatory tones before the Lord. Sometimes, they even make demands of God.

Then, when their prayers aren’t answered in the way they expect, which is often the case, they chafe and question whether God really cares about them, peevishly wondering if He is really active in their lives.

Does this sound familiar? If so, it’s a problem that occurs routinely, creating significant problems for many. The problem is the mindset behind the whining and plaintive prayers isn’t consistent with the way God operates. As a general rule, He doesn’t deliver people from turbulence; He guides them through troubled waters instead. There’s a big difference between the two.

If He delivered you from difficult situations, as you wish He would, then you would never grow up and become mature. You would remain a perpetual child, lacking resiliency, weak in character. This isn’t what God wants for your life.

He wants you to have childlike faith, but He doesn’t want you to be a perpetual child. Almighty God answers prayers, but He is not a co-dependent rescuer. It’s okay to pray like this, but you must realize that God is far more interested in your growth than He is in sparing you from life’s inevitable heartaches.

My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be shaken. On God my salvation and my glory rest; the rock of my strength, my refuge is in God. Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. (Psalm 62:5-8)

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Refer to Step 4: I choose to believe what God says about Himself: that He is good and can be trusted. I recognize that God is not the abuser; rather, people who misuse their authority are the abusers.

 

 

There are two kinds of people:

Those seeking the truth

And those afraid of it.

—AA slogan

 

In the aftermath of spiritual abuse or any other kind of abuse, your eyes become opened. You see things differently. You have much more clarity and far less naïveté. It’s like the blinders have been removed, and you realize the direction you’ve been traveling will not take you to the place you believed you were heading.

It’s like Todo has pulled back the curtain and revealed the fraud you thought was the great and powerful Wizard of Oz. Realizing that your religious leader is narcissistically self-interested, you feel like a fool to have been so gullible. Once you realize this, that’s when you become cynical, and nothing spiritual seems real or legitimate any longer.

When this happens, you can either fritter away many years of your life, nurturing anger, bitterness, and a rebellious spirit; or you can redouble your efforts to develop your relationship with God. He is real and can be trusted. He is not abusive like some of His misguided people.

Having your eyes opened is a good thing—despite the disillusionment necessary to make it happen. Nothing good comes from blindness. In order to be of maximum use to yourself and others, having your eyes opened was necessary.

Now that this has happened, what you need to change is your perspective. When you realize that God allowed your abuse to get you to a better place—a place where you could trust Him and not your self-serving narcissistic leader—you can bow your knee and be thankful. When you look at it from this perspective, you can learn to think positively about your experience. By changing your perspective, cynicism will leave you, and you will be far less likely to be fooled again.

 

And Jesus said, For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see; and that those who see may become blind. (John 9:39)

Jack Watts

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Refer to Step 3:I accept that the responsibility for getting back on track is mine and no one else’s.

 

I was taught that the way to progress was neither swift nor easy.

—Marie Curie

When you experience something very difficult in life—like abusiveness, divorce, or an unexpected death—you come to an important crossroads. It’s where your relationship with God will either become more important to you or less important—but it will not remain constant. You will either become more mature or remain “stuck” in some key area of your life.

When this happens, you know you’ve come to a place where God is seeking your attention. Using pressure from your circumstances, God prunes you, which is never pleasant when it’s occurring. When your situation becomes too intense to handle, you’ll either pay attention to the lesson you are being taught, or you will not. The choice is yours; it’s always yours.

If you choose to follow your own path, you will have to deal with the painful consequences of your actions in your own way. To help cope with the results of a poor decision, you may choose to medicate your pain with alcohol, inappropriate sexual relationships, prescription medications, pornography, overeating, or overspending. Each provides a temporary, satisfying escape; but none of these self-medications work well—or for long.

In the end, all you will have accomplished is the acquisition of an additional problem with no solution to the original one. Even worse, you’ll be destined to repeat the problem in one way or another until you finally learn your lesson. No matter how hard you try, there’s no getting around it. That’s why I believe Groundhog Day is so philosophical. Its message is simple: If you don’t learn your lesson the first time, you will repeat it until you do. This is why it is wiser to pay the price now rather than wait until later.

 

Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (James 1:12)

JACK WATTS

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A Prayer about Obstinacy

 

Father,

I’m praying because I know I should,

Not because I really want to.

I can do things for myself.

I always have—always will.

I don’t need Your help—not really.

“Bring it on,” is my motto.

In my heart, this is how I feel

Nearly all of the time.

I’m not trying to hurt anybody,

But I don’t really trust others either—

Not even You, Lord, not even You.

Gritting my teeth obstinately,

I boast, “I can handle anything.”

 

Then, You allow adversity to reign over me.

Fighting You every step of the way,

I refuse to learn the lesson I’m being taught.

This is who I am or, at least, who I’ve become.

Undaunted, You turn the pressure up further,

And I wince at the discomfort

But I still will not yield—not yet.

I continue to have more fight in me.

I cannot submit; I will not submit.

Then, You double the pressure, redoubling it once again.

Finally, when I can stand no more,

I break—just a little, and in bewildered distress,

I cry out, “Lord? What have I done?”

As if completely innocent, I whine, “Why is this happening?”

Revealing Your purpose, You allow me understand

How badly my world needed shaking.

Finally, coming to the end of my obstinacy,

In submission, I acknowledge what I should have earlier,

“Let Your Will be my will. Do with me as You please.”

Jack Watts

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Father,

 

My days were filled with gloom for so long

That I never thought joy would return to me,

But it has—with the best yet to come.

Like the relentless surge of the waves,

New life and new hope are returning to my soul.

You assured me this would happen;

Comforting me with Your Word,

But my pain clouded my belief.

 

Journal: Write about your own experience. If you are still experiencing dark days, write about what you want for your life when they are over.

 

God is good and can be trusted. An abusive spiritual leader is just a human who arrogates God’s authority to himself or herself inappropriately—nothing more, nothing less. Recognizing the error is appropriate, but blaming God for it isn’t. He is never abusive.

Journal: Write about your anger toward God, making special note about how your perspective has changed since you’ve been working at recovery.

 

For many, praying for themselves tends to become a habit, as their “self-centered thoughts” relentlessly consume them. The way out of this confine is to make a purposeful, concerted effort to stop praying for themselves, and start praying for others instead.

Question: Does this accurately depict you? If so, after having spent as much time as needed praying about your own abusive situation, try expending your energy on someone else. If you do, you will not be disappointed. It’s a positive step in your growth and an exercise where there is no downside.

 

In our society, there’s no way to tell a Christian from a non-Christian, but that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. The Scriptures say that you can “tell them by their love for one another,” meaning that love for one another should be clearly evident. But it isn’t, is it? And there’s no use pretending that it’s true, when it’s not. In fact, the opposite is frequently the case.

Journal: React to the paragraph above, either agreeing or disagreeing with it. Name at least three things that either support or refute the statement.

 

Christians in the 21st century like to blame liberals and political correctness for the state of affairs, without taking a hard look at themselves. What has changed is the quality of Christians. We have dumbed down, while telling ourselves we are okay—worst of all, we believe it.

Journal: React to the paragraph above, either agreeing or disagreeing with it. Name at least three things that either support or refute the statement.

Jack Watts

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Lord,

It’s so much easier to choose bitterness over acceptance—

To respond to venomous attacks defensively, with equal anger,

But I know this isn’t the person I want to be.

I’m equally certain this isn’t what You desire for me either.

I want life to be fair, and for those who know me

To treat me with respect, kindness, and consideration.

I want life to be fair, but it isn’t—not even with the people we love.

Often, their attacks are the worst by far, and can be

Far more viscous than anything from people outside the family.

Because this isn’t what any of us want, deserve, or expect,

The wounds from such attacks are far worse than others.

They injure us deeply and are impossible to forget.

 

But You don’t want us to forget such things, do you, Lord?

Instead, You want us to learn from them so that we will become

Better people—people who have a far greater resemblance to You.

I know that choosing a wise response over retaliation

Is always Your will. I know this, nearly everybody does.

But it isn’t easy—not when bitter verbal assaults

And malicious castigations have been hurled at you.

When they land, they wound the soul, and it hurts.

I confess that I lack the maturity to react well, but I’m improving.

With Your help, I know I will learn to do a better job.

Because I’m certain there be a next time,

I choose to accept life the way it is and refuse

To succumb to bitterness, reprisal, or acrimony.

Help me learn each of my lessons from this, Lord,

And thank You for being so patience with me.

Jack Watts

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Our Lukewarm Generation

 

Refer to STEP 11:I make a commitment to nurture my relationship with the Lord, asking Him to reveal His will to me and to provide me with the power to carry it out.

 

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.

—Helen Keller

 

In 1776, at the time of the American Revolution, how many people do you think were church member—members not attendees?

  • 5 percent
  • 25 percent
  • 35 percent
  • 55 percent
  • 75 percent

Before you answer, think about that generation of Christians for a moment. These early Christians influenced the founding of this nation and the Constitution that established the laws of the land. In many ways, we still live in the wake of their blessing a dozen generations later. Their influence has been that powerful.

Currently, more than 50 percent of Americans are church members, and our influence is pitifully weak—not just politically, but in service to our nation and to the world. If 50 percent can’t get the job done today, it must have taken 75 percent in the late-18th century, right?

Well, not exactly.

If you guessed 5 percent were church members, you were correct. That’s right, just one out of twenty, but being a believer in that era was far different than it is today. Those early Americans were strong, resilient men and women, whose faith impacted every aspect of their lives. In their era, making disciples was the emphasis—not evangelism.

In our generation, the emphasis is getting thousands of marginal believers to say they are members, and there is practically no emphasis on making them strong men and women, filled with knowledge and estimable character qualities. This shift in balance has weakened our impact upon society dramatically—much like Common Core has downsized educational excellence.

Christians in the 21st century like to blame Progressives, liberals and political correctness for the state of affairs, without taking a hard look at themselves. What has changed is the quality of Christians. We have dumbed down, while telling ourselves we are okay—worst of all, we believe it.

 

 

All authority has been given to Me in heaven and in earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end if the age (Matthew 28:18b-20).

Jack Watts

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Love One Another—No Matter What

 

 

Refer to Step 10:I choose to believe God still has a purpose for my life—a purpose for good and not evil.

 

Loving-kindness is greater than laws; and the charities of life are more than all ceremonies.

—Talmud

 

Honestly, in our society, there’s no way to tell a Christian from a non-Christian, but that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. The Scriptures say that you can “tell them by their love for one another,” meaning that love for one another should be clearly evident. But it isn’t, is it? And there’s no use pretending that this true, when it isn’t. In fact, the opposite is frequently the case.

Loving one another is not only important; it’s the key to attracting others—not doctrine, not church membership, and not any outward dogmatic manifestation of your faith. Loving one another is how you should differentiate between believers and non-believers. The Scriptures say that it’s by your behavior—the condition of your heart—that reveals who you really are. It’s as clear as the Ten Commandments.

That this characteristic is missing is undeniable, and it’s a far more powerful witness to the world than any promotion a church can muster to generate enthusiasm. If you are demonstrating love, you are projecting a good witness. If you say that you have a loving spirit, but it’s not true, that will also leave a lasting witness—one that carefully prepared testimonials cannot counteract. This means you are making an impression no matter what you are doing.

If demonstrable love isn’t present, your witness is actually counterproductive. It’s why millions call Christians hypocrites, which is an accurate assessment more often than not. Because God has shown His love and mercy toward you, it’s natural that you would want to tell others about it. At the same time, if love is not the primary characteristic in your heart, don’t be surprised if your attempts at witnessing ring hollow or actually turn people off.

 

Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart. (I Peter 1:22)

Jack Watts

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The Spiritually Superior

 

Refer to Step 4: I chose to accept as true what God says about Himself. He is good and can be trusted. I recognize that God is not the abuser; people who misuse their authority are the abusers.

 

The self-appointed spokesmen for God incline to shout; He, Himself, speaks only in whispers.

—Martin H. Fischer

 

Often believing in the de facto infallibility of their opinions, many religious leaders become accountable to God only which, in their minds, makes it acceptable to treat others any way they choose. More than any other factor, this is where religious abuse originates. Nothing compares to it.

To leaders like these, lesser human beings become expendable. Using their position of superiority, such men and women “strut their stuff” arrogantly, expecting their followers to be obsequious when they do. They tacitly insist others recognize their exalted role, accept it, and pay appropriate homage. This prideful belief, which each of these men and women would deny and denounce if challenged, is easily identifiable to those who are close to them.

Being a spiritual leader, however, does not equate to being spiritually superior—quite the contrary. In recovery, because we have felt the sting of religious arrogance so acutely, we know how abusive it can be. That’s why so many of us have reacted negatively, while at the same time blaming God for the abusiveness.

Recognizing this distinction is the key to recovery. God is good and can be trusted. An abusive spiritual leader is just a human who arrogates God’s authority to himself or herself inappropriately—nothing more, nothing less. Recognizing the error is appropriate, but blaming God for it isn’t. He is never abusive. When you begin to recognize the difference, you will have made a significant step in your recovery.

 

Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. So then, you will know them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15, 20)

Jack Watts

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Father,

My season of darkness is passing,

I sense that my soul-weary depression is lifting—

That despair will no longer be my portion in life.

My painful experience is not finished yet—not quite,

But like the tide that inevitably recedes,

Leaving a great wide expanse of clean, white sand,

The same is true for my soul.

My days were filled with gloom for so long

That I never thought joy would return to me,

But it has—with the best years yet to come.

Like the relentless surge of the waves,

New life and new hope are returning to my soul.

 

You assured me that this would happen,

Comforting me with promises from Your Word,

But my pain clouded my soul with disbelief.

Despite my ennui, in the depth of my despair—

No matter how deep my pit became—

You were there within me, providing nourishment,

Replenishing my starved spirit with hope.

It was all I had and it wasn’t much,

But it was enough to sustain me through the night.

Without Your gentle hand upon my life,

I’m certain there would be nothing left.

But because You were there, I am a better person;

Far more resilient, caring, and compassionate.

Now, as joy and bounty return, help me to be

Ever mindful that You are always by my side—

In times of plenty and in times of lean,

In times of joy and in times of dread—

Reminding me that my days are numbered by You.

Jack Watts

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Renewed Hope

 

Father,

My season of darkness is passing,

I sense that my soul-weary depression is lifting—

That despair will no longer be my portion in life.

My painful experience is not finished yet—not quite,

But like the tide that inevitably recedes,

Leaving a great wide expanse of clean, white sand,

The same is true for my soul.

My days were filled with gloom for so long

That I never thought joy would return to me,

But it has—with the best years yet to come.

Like the relentless surge of the waves,

New life and new hope are returning to my soul.

 

You assured me that this would happen,

Comforting me with promises from Your Word,

But pain clouded my soul with disbelief.

Despite my ennui, in the depth of my despair—

No matter how deep my pit became—

You were there within me, providing nourishment,

Replenishing my starved spirit with hope.

It was all I had and it wasn’t much,

But it was enough to sustain me through the night.

Without Your gentle hand upon my life,

I’m certain there would be nothing left.

But because You were there, I am a better person;

Far more resilient, caring, and compassionate.

Now, as joy and bounty return, help me to be

Ever mindful that You are always by my side—

In times of plenty and in times of lean,

In times of joy and in times of dread—

Reminding me that my days are numbered by You.

Jack Watts

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