Recalling Our Example: Christ

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve observed a number of people express their feelings towards others, in a way that can only be described as un-Christ-like. The funny thing is that every one of these individuals claims to be a Christian. Therefore, I decided to remind us all what being a Christian ought to look like.

I’ve been reading the epistles of Paul to the churches at Rome, Corinth, and Galatia, and as I’ve mentioned before, I’m really fascinated by Paul, and I really I love reading his letters. He was such a wonderful writer, and I see so much of my style in the way he wrote. Usually his words have me praising God in agreement and/or laughing because I just get a kick out of his use of sarcasm.

Paul intrigues me because he was a man that grew up in the church. He was incredibly knowledgeable of the Word, and practiced what he preached. He was so firm in his beliefs that when the first Christian believers began sharing the news that Jesus was the Messiah and had raised from the dead, he whole-heartedly believe they were blaspheming and attempted to snuff them out. He thought he was doing the right thing. But on the road to Damascus, his whole world was changed. He came face-to-face with Jesus Himself! The very person whom he had denied! (You can read more of his transformation, beginning in Acts 9.)thCA0DHMHN

His combined knowledge of the Word and his relationship with Christ could have made Paul prideful. However, it had just the opposite effect. Paul recognized that it wasn’t his knowledge of the Word or his actions that saved him, but the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for our sins.

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. (Romans 3:25-27)

Now, Paul wasn’t saying that our faith in Christ trumped the law that God established in the creation of the 10 Commandments, but was making the point that we can’t do anything to save ourselves. Jesus did all the Work!

Therefore, it angers me to see certain individuals (I’ll call them P1) believe that because they’ve lived the “right way” their entire lives (or so they think), look down on those who’ve sinned in the past (I’ll call them P2), even after P2 has accepted Christ as their Lord and savior has been allowing God to transform them day by day! The truth is, as Paul said, we have nothing to boast about, because we didn’t save ourselves! Even if we never broke any of the commandments—which only ONE individual could ever honestly claim—we were still born into sin, because sin is passed on through our father’s bloodline (Romans 5:12)!

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22-24) [emphasis added]

How dare we believe that we are any better than any other individual, when Christ died for us all!

Okay, so that was just part one, of what I have say (lol). Here’s part number two…Just because we are saved by faith and not by works, does NOT give us the excuse to not follow the law. Jesus Himself said that He didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17)—and He actually had even higher standards (Don’t believe me? Read Matthew 5:21-48)!  And Paul states in Romans that the law is not nullified by our faith, as well (Romans 3:31).

The purpose of the law is to show us our sin, the purpose of Jesus dying on the cross is to save us from that sin, but we’re not supposed to go back to wallowing in our filth one once we’ve been redeemed of it (Romans 6:2)!

    • For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:6-7)
    • Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Romans 6:16)
    • But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22-23)

Furthermore, Jesus and Paul, both explained to us, very clearly, that while we can (attempt to) uphold the law and have an established relationship with God, the greatest commandments aren’t actually explicitly written in the law. And ‘what is that?’ you might ask. L-O-V-E.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

This request that we love, doesn’t nullify our faith or obedience, it enhances it. The fact that God loved us in our sin enough to send His Son to die for us, reveals just how great His love is for us. Our natural response, once we come into the knowledge of Christ and establish a relationship with Him, should be to lavish upon Him with a grateful heart full of love, and obedience.  And the stronger our relationship with Him grows, the more our hearts are transformed by the love of God, then the more our love ought to overflow into the lives of the people around us! (For more on this topic you may want to check out some of my other posts: Multiply: Week 3, Burning One, and All-Embracing Love)

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

A mistake that we often make, is believing that we can have faith in, and love God, without allowing God to penetrate our hearts and make any sort of change in us. Then we go around telling the world that we’re a believer, even though James explicitly states that faith without deeds is dead!

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)

Basically, James says “we have a group of people, who say they have faith and believe, but where is the proof of their faith”?! He goes on to talk about Abraham who had so much faith in the promises of God that he circumcised  himself and all the male members of his household (he took action!), before he even had evidence that God would accomplish all that He said He would (James 2:21-24; Genesis 17). We must ask ourselves, what do our actions and lifestyle say about what we believe?

Of course, we are also reminded in 1 Corinthians 13, that we can do all sorts of goods things in this life, but if our actions don’t stem from love, then it’s all meaningless. This is why we have to humble ourselves and allow God to change us from the inside out. Because, if we try to do things out of a desire to earn God’s grace, rather than out of love for God and people, then our faith and works are useless.

And lastly, although, He loved all, Jesus really made it a point to reach out to those in the most desperate of circumstances. He reached out to those others ignored: women, children, tax collectors, the sick, the poor, and even those who openly lived in sin. Jesus lived during a time when it was taught by the teachers of the law that those who struggled in lowly circumstances suffered because of sin in either their lives, or the lives of their parents. (Which is funny if you think about it, since practically all of Israel worshiped idols at some point or another.) But, there He was, God-in-the-flesh, meeting sinners right where they were. And what was His response when the Pharisees asked Him about His actions…”It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13).

Mercy. What is mercy? Mercy is showing compassion, kindness, and understanding towards others.

Many believers have fallen into the trap of surrounding themselves with nothing but other believers, much like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. This is not completely wrong. Our closest friends, those we go to for advice, to whom we turn when we’re in need of accountability, prayer, and encouragement should be fellow believers. However, those who need to hear God’s truth don’t ever get to experience the goodness of God’s love unless we tell them and show them! We cannot completely separate ourselves from them. God calls us to shower them with love, compassion, kindness, and to show understanding as we speak Truth into their lives (**Note, that we cannot leave this last part out**).truth_in_love[1]

For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:12-15)

Jesus told us to go into ALL the world and preach the gospel; a command that was issued not to just a few isolated believers, but to all who believe; so that we might reach men and women from every nation, every background, and from every circumstance, showing no partiality (Mark 16:15; James 2:1-9).

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Awakening

I’ve been trying to think of the best way to broach this subject, without making light of the grief associated with such tremendous loss of innocent life, which occurred on Friday, December 14, 2012. My heart goes out the individuals and families involved and associated with these events; and you are in my prayers.

That being said…As I drove home from work on Friday, after briefly hearing what was taking place in Connecticut, I had the strong urge/desire/need to read my Bible. As you know, I’ve been studying the book of Romans and decided early last week, to really take my time studying this book, because there are just so many important topics worth discussing. I’ve been writing it all down in a notebook so that I can discuss these various topics at a later date, but during Friday’s studying/reading I covered Romans 1:18-25. Today, we’re going to focus on the first two verses.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. (Romans 1:18-19)

As I read these verses, I couldn’t help but think of all the wicked and godless things that I’ve been seeing in the news over the past few weeks. From stolen nativity scenes, billboards claiming the story of Christ to be a myth, and churches approving of homosexuality (and allowing them to take leadership positions within the church). As well as what’s been splashed across our media for the past few years regarding pornography, human trafficking, child molestation, abortion, rape, murder, divorce, and sex outside of marriage (including adultery, prostitution, and casual sex).

We live in a nation that refuses to acknowledge that God has full authority over all. A nation that wants to remove God from everything: our schools, our government, our money, basically our everyday lives. A nation that doesn’t want to take responsibility for its actions; and therefore, refuses to acknowledge the fact that there is a God. Because to do so means that we must be held accountable to the laws which He’s established.

I have a newsflash for you, whether you believe that there is a God who maintains full authority or you don’t; it doesn’t change the fact that God is real, that He loves us and He sent His son to die for us. If we choose not to believe and choose to live a life of rebellion and of personal satisfaction and gain, we will be held accountable.

The numerous accounts of violence against others and self that have occurred within the last few years, as well as fires, car accidents, natural disasters (hurricanes, tornadoes, famines, typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes, forest fires, and floods), our failing economy, threats and rumors of nuclear and biological war….are not entirely separate from our reaction to God and His commands. The more we chase the things this world has to offer, rather than the cross; the more we try to deny His existence, rather than proclaim His glory; the more innocent children we slaughter in the womb, rather than being grateful for the blessedness of life;  the more we try to create God into the image of man, rather than striving to become more like Him (check out Romans 1:22-23)…the worse our circumstances will become.

Unfortunately, this is to be expected. We know, as believers, that according to God’s word, that things will become even more terrible before His return (I am always thinking about Christ’s return (even more so lately, as we’ve been celebrating Advent and Christmas); and since we don’t know when Jesus will return we need to be prepared at all times and we should be sharing His Truth and love with everyone who crosses our path!

However, just because we’re living in the end times, and we know that wickedness will continue to grow, doesn’t mean that we ought to just sit back and let it happen! There will still be times of revival and awakening in our nation and churches. Remember the days of kings such as Hezekiah and Josiah, and the many prophets whose words can still be read in our Bibles today (and even the Great Awakenings of the early 1700, 1800, and 1900s). Before Israel/Judah’s fall, God gave His people chance after chance to serve Him; and awakenings and revivals were common during that age (don’t believe me? Read 2 Kings).

We, the church, need to stop sitting on the fence and standing on the sidelines, and we need to be proactive (instead of reactive) by sharing and living out our convictions before it’s too late; before our Assyrian and Babylonian armies come in to take us apart, and before Christ’s return. As of right now, there are so many that aren’t standing upon God’s word and aren’t living as He called us to, and unfortunately, some of these individuals are simply being deceived and following their wicked leaders; but the truth remains that they won’t be joining us in heaven. Never stop speaking truth in love.

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:6-13)

Justified by Faith

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it! (Romans 6:1-2)

This verse has been running through my head for the last few days. I’m afraid to say this, but the truth is many “believers” are under the assumption that as long as you believe in God and His son Jesus, that you can go on living life just like the rest of the world and still be saved. But that’s not what God’s word says! The Bible says, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe–and tremble! (James 2:19).” (And believe me when I say, the demons are not going to be worshiping with us in heaven.)

As Paul wrote to the church in Rome, our lives become new when we accept Christ into our hearts–the old, sinful man dies–which means our words and actions should be transformed–or made new/alive–into the image of Christ (Romans 6:4). This is not something that occurs overnight, but as we study our Bibles and establish communication with God through prayer and worship, and allow the Holy Spirit to lead and prompt us, change most definitely occurs; and when that change occurs, the whole world can see it!

Obviously, our generation is not the first to struggle with this “I’m a believer but I don’t fellowship with other believers, read my Bible, pray, or worship God” mentality, since Paul was writing to the early church about similar things. But we have something that the early church didn’t: the Bible! I thank God for it every time I read it, because through it, God left us instructions and insight into the workings of His mind–and although, we’ll NEVER fully understand Him (Isaiah 55:8 says, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord.”)–I’ll take every scrap of insight and understanding that I can get!

By now you’re probably saying to yourself, but God’s word says we’re “justified by faith,” and you’re right, we are justified by faith. There’s nothing that we could do on our own to earn salvation; that’s a gift that God offers us freely. However, if we truly believe that Jesus offered His life for us on the cross and took all our sins upon His own perfect shoulders, will we continue living life as we please, regardless of His sacrifice? I tweeted once before, that “calling yourself a Christian and then living in sin, is like calling yourself a husband and then beating on your spouse.” The truth is, we claim to be believers, and claim to love Christ, but with every sinful deed, we spit in Jesus’ face, then beat and curse Him. Our actions and lifestyle are not one of thanksgiving and adoration for the one who saves us from Hell. If we truly love Him, we’ll lift our lives to Him as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1); we’ll pour our love out upon Him, and be obedient to Him, for His word says, “If you love Me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

It’s not easy. I used to live the life of the party-goer every Friday and Saturday, and the “repentant Christian” every Sunday. I knew I was living for myself, and I knew it grieved God; but I kept apologizing and making excuses. Have you ever seen an abusive relationship (in real life, or portrayed in the movies)? The man beats the girlfriend/wife, then turns around and apologizes, the wife believes him, and then the cycle repeats. I was the abusive man. Was I truly sorry? Considering the fact that I turned around and repeated my actions, I don’t believe I was. True repentance comes from godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10), and includes recognizing and repenting of our sin, turning away from the things that aren’t pleasing to God, giving everything over to Him, and  following His lead.

I thank God for second chances at life, and I pray that some day soon, you too, will receive the precious gift He offers, with a truly thankful heart.

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

Speaking Truth

I love the term “righteous indignation.” What does it mean? To be angry over some moral injustice. It’s often used to describe Jesus when he went to the temple in Jerusalem and overturned the tables of the men selling sacrificial animals for way more than what they were worth–they were basically robbing those coming to worship God. (Matthew 21:12; Mark 11:15). It’s also something that I often find welling up within me–due to the Holy Spirit living within me (as with every believer)–when I hear certain comments or see people behaving a certain way. Sometimes it takes a lot of self-control to keep from shouting what’s on my mind.

Today, it just so happened to be a comment about something someone said. A preacher stated something about how if a certain person doesn’t get elected it will only be because of their stance on this and this (yes, I’m being very generic, lol) and he quoted two scripture verses. He never said anything about the person’s character, never said anything judgmental or rude; he only spoke truth. So, of course here comes the reply…an individual complaining about Christians being judgmental and how Jesus taught us that we should just love one another.

So, here is my thought…Say you have a best friend. You go out to dinner, you have an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert. And, let’s say before you left the restaurant and headed to the movie theater he/she asked you how they looked, and you told them they looked great. You get to the theater and your friend has to use the restroom. Imagine your friend’s surprise–and anger–when they look in the bathroom mirror to see spinach in their teeth from the appetizer, BBQ sauce from their ribs on their chin, and chocolate frosting on their cheek?! When they come back they ask you why you lied to them. Why did you tell them they looked great, when they looked a hot mess? And you tell them…you didn’t want to be judgmental and you wanted to love them just as they were??

How is lying to someone showing them that you love them? If you really loved them, you would have told them to go to the bathroom at the restaurant and wash up before they walked around, ignorant of the mess on their face.

Therefore, I’m sorry if you feel that Christians are judgmental, even though, we’re only speaking truth. We don’t pass judgment, we just tell you what God’s word says on the matter. It’s your job to decide whether or not to do something about it, once you find out the truth. We’ve all messed up, myself included, and Christians don’t pretend to be perfect or have it all together. However, don’t expect us to lie to you in order to make you feel better about a decision or lifestyle you’ve chosen for yourself. Just as Jesus corrected people when they weren’t living as they should (please read all of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), we speak truth because we love you and don’t want to see you walking around in ignorance.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always [even] until the end of the age.” Amen (Matthew 28:19-20)

Watchful Eyes

It’s so funny how one can read the Bible over and over again, and yet realize something new, every time you read it. For instance, today as I read Luke 12, I noticed that God expects more from believers than unbelievers. “Well duh!” You may be thinking to yourself. Now, hear me out…In verses 35-46 Jesus tells the parable of the men waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, the man on the lookout for the thief, and the wise manager whom the master puts in charge of his servants. The point of each of these stories? To be prepared for whenever the Master (Jesus) returns; to not be caught unawares. To instead, be caught doing exactly what the Master has called us to do. So, what happens if we’re caught not doing our Father’s will?

That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. (Luke 12:47-48)

“Woah! Okay, so you’re telling me that those of us who know what God’s will is for our lives and what He wants us to do….If we don’t do it, we’re in just as much trouble as those who are ignorant of His will?” No, I’m telling you that you’ll be in even more trouble. It’s like when you were little and you and your younger sibling got caught doing something you weren’t supposed to. Who got into more trouble? You! The older sibling always gets into more trouble because he/she should have “known better.” That’s how God sees Christians…we should know better.

God didn’t just send His son into this world to be beaten, die, and raised to life, for us to sit around on our hands and keep this free gift of life to ourselves! He tells us to go into all the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). We tend to think of the world is these huge terms; we think of the little boy or girl in a small rural community with little to eat. But the world is at our very fingertips; it’s our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers, our cashiers at the grocery store, even the people who follow us on twitter (or our blogs). And our “making disciples” usually doesn’t begin with words, but with our actions, attitudes, and desires…and there’s always someone watching.

What are your actions, attitudes, and desires saying about you? Are they saying you live for Christ? That He’s the center of your world? Or are they saying He’s an afterthought? A great addition to your already busy schedule? Something to make you feel good? When you’re frustrated or angry how do you respond? Is it Christlike? Or do you spout obscenities? Are you mean/treat others with disrespect? What are the things you aspire for? Are they earthly/worldly (ex. the latest iPhone/iPad, car, computer, a bigger house, more clothes/shoes)? Or spiritual?

God has given us much…LOVE, GRACE, MERCY, HOPE, LIFE; therefore He expects much. Who are you going to share it with?

Judgment

I came across this short statement a while ago, and it was recently brought to mind, so I thought I’d share it with you…

In our politically correct age, we are told that it’s not our right to point fingers and pass judgment on others. However, this is actually a judgment in and of itself, and thus it contradicts the principle that we should not judge others. So when someone tells you that it’s wrong for you to judge, ask, “So then why are you judging me?” Anyone who says Jesus prohibits all judgment in Matthew 7:1 has taken His words out of context. It is a self-righteous, hypocritical judgment that Jesus condemns (Romans 2:1-3). Elsewhere He actually commands His followers to “judge according to righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Paul said Christians are responsible to discern the actions of other Christians (1 Corinthians 5:9-13, 6:2-5). Of course our goal must be correction rather than scorn when we make righteous judgments. We must keep a humble, non-hypocritical spirit when we judge others, but we should never buy into the idea that it is wrong to practice and communicate discernment. (Apologetics Study Bible for Students. (2009). P 1010. Holman Bible Publishers: Nashville, TN.)

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard . About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, “You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, “Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?” “Because no one has hired us,” they answered. He said to them, “You also go and work in my vineyard.” When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.” The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. “These men who were hired last worked only one hour,” they said, “and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.” But he answered one of them, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last. (Matthew 20:1-16)

As many times as I’ve read the Bible this parable came across as though I’d never before read it. I thought about how often I hear people complaining about what’s “fair.”

My study Bible states this regarding this parable…”Jesus’ story makes little economic sense–which was his point exactly. He is giving a parable about grace, and you can’t calculate the grace of God like you can a day’s wages. We receive it as a gift from God, not as something we work hard to earn. The person who comes to God at the end of life–like the robber on the cross–enjoys the same ultimate benefits as someone who follows God from early childhood. Jealousy of another’s ‘unfair’ rewards can rob us of the joy of our own.”

Wow! What a thought! It really puts into perspective that fact that God doesn’t play favorites with us. He doesn’t love some of us more than others; and our rewards in the end will be the same, no matter how long we’ve followed after Him, or what we’ve done for Him. Nothing relies upon us; but everything relies on God’s generosity. (Which should also make us think about how we treat each other…If God doesn’t play favorites, should we?)

The other thing I noticed about this parable was that the landowner went out and grabbed even the leftovers; the workers that nobody else wanted! Proving, yet again, that God loves and cares for what the world considers to be “the unlovable.” And finally, this parable also shows that He never gives up on us; He offers us chance after chance to follow Him! How many times did the landowner go out and invite more men to work in his vineyard?! He did so repeatedly, but he could only do so until the day was over; however, he continued up until the very last hour. (Something else to think about.)

The NIV Student Bible, Revised. (2002). Zondervan:Grand Rapids Michigan.