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About Mike Wittmer

Mike is Professor of Systematic Theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. He has written Heaven Is a Place on Earth (Zondervan), Don’t Stop Believing (Zondervan), The Last Enemy (Discovery House Publishers),  Despite Doubt (Discovery House Publishers), and Becoming Worldly Saints (Zondervan). Mike and his wife, Julie, are too busy with three school-age children to have any hobbies, but he does make time to blog on theological topics here.

A True Disciple of Jesus

By |2021-11-15T16:26:35-05:00November 9th, 2021|

When Christian Mustad showed his Van Gogh landscape to art collector Auguste Pellerin, Pellerin took one look and said it wasn’t authentic. Mustad hid the painting in his attic, where it remained for fifty years. Mustad died, and the painting was evaluated off and on over the next four decades. Each time it was determined to be a fake. Until 2012, when an expert used a computer to count the thread separations in the painting’s canvas. He discovered it had been cut from the same canvas as another work of Van Gogh. Mustad had owned a real Van Gogh all along.

Do you feel like a fake? Do you fear that if people examined you they’d see how little you pray, give, and serve? Are you tempted to hide in the attic, away from prying eyes?

Look deeper, beneath the colors and contours of your life. If you have turned from your own ways and put your faith in Jesus, then you and He belong to the same canvas. To use Jesus’ picture, “I am the vine; you are the branches” (v. 5). Jesus and you form a seamless whole.

Resting in Jesus makes you a true disciple of Him. It’s also the only way to improve your picture. He said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5).

 

Wise Christians

By |2021-10-23T09:06:09-04:00October 23rd, 2021|

The coronavirus pandemic canceled schools around the world. In China, teachers responded with DingTalk, a digital app that enabled class to be held online. Then their students figured out that if DingTalk’s rating fell too low, it might be removed from the App Store. Overnight thousands of one-star reviews dropped DingTalk’s score.

Jesus wouldn’t be impressed with the students shirking their responsibilities, but He might admire their ingenuity. He told an unusual story about a fired manager who on his final day slashed the bills of his master’s debtors. Jesus didn’t praise the manager’s dishonesty. Rather He commended his cleverness and wished His followers would be equally shrewd. “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9).

When it comes to money, most people look at how much they might lose. Wise people look for what they can use. Jesus said giving to others “gain(s) friends,” which provides safety and influence. Who is the leader in any group? The one who pays. Giving also gains “eternal dwellings,” for our willingness to part with our cash shows our trust is in Jesus.

Maybe we don’t have money. We do have time, skills, or a listening ear. Let’s cleverly plot ways to serve others for Jesus. What we lose is less than what we’ll win.

What’s Your Name?

By |2021-10-07T14:47:24-04:00October 1st, 2021|

Someone said we go through life with three names: the name our parents gave us, the name others give us (reputation), and the name we give ourselves (character). The name others give us matters, as “a good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1). But reputation can be wrong. Character matters more.

There’s yet another name that matters most. Jesus told the Christians in Pergamum that though their reputation had suffered some well-deserved hits, He had a new name reserved in heaven for those who fight back and conquer temptation. “To the one who is victorious, I will give . . . a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it” (v. 17).

We aren’t sure why Jesus promised a white stone. Is it an award for winning? A token for admission to the Messianic banquet? Perhaps it’s similar to what jurors once used to vote for acquittal. We simply don’t know. Whatever it is, God promises our new name will wipe away our shame (see Isaiah 62:1–5).

Our reputation may be tattered and our character may be seemingly beyond repair. But neither name ultimately defines us. It’s not what others call you, nor even what you call yourself that matters. You are who Jesus says you are. Live into your new name.

Unbreakable in Jesus

By |2021-09-19T09:06:09-04:00September 19th, 2021|

Louis Zamperini survived, somehow. His military plane crashed at sea during the war, killing eight of eleven men onboard. “Louie” and two others clambered into life rafts. They drifted for two months, fending off sharks, riding out storms, ducking bullets from an enemy plane, and catching and eating raw fish and birds. They finally drifted onto an island and were immediately captured. For two years Louie was beaten, tortured, and worked mercilessly as a prisoner of war. His remarkable story is told in the book, Unbroken.

Jeremiah is one of the Bible’s unbreakable characters. He endured enemy plots (11:18), was whipped and put in stocks (20:2), flogged and bound in a dungeon (37:15–16), and lowered by ropes into the deep mire of a cistern (38:6). He survived because God had promised to stay with him and rescue him (1:8). God makes a similar promise to us. “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). God didn’t promise to save Jeremiah or us from trouble, but He has promised to carry us through trouble. 

Louie recognized God’s protection, and after the war he gave his life to Christ. He forgave his captors, and led some to Jesus. Louie realized that while we can’t avoid all problems, we need not suffer them alone. When we face them with Jesus, we become unbreakable.

Loving Your Enemy

By |2021-08-23T09:06:03-04:00August 23rd, 2021|

I ducked into a room before she saw me. I was ashamed of hiding, but I didn’t want to deal with her right then—or ever. I longed to tell her off, to put her in her place. Though I was annoyed by her behavior, it’s likely I had irritated her even more!

The Jews and Samaritans also shared a mutually irritating relationship.  Being a people of mixed origin and worshiping their own gods, the Samaritans—in the eyes of the Jews—had spoiled the Jewish bloodline and faith, erecting a rival religion on Mount Gerazim (John 4:20). In fact, the Jews so despised Samaritans they walked the long way around rather than take the direct route through their country.

Jesus revealed a better way. He brought salvation for all people, including Samaritans. So He ventured into the heart of Samaria to bring living water to a sinful woman and her town (John 4:4-42). His last words to His disciples were to follow His example. They must share His good news with everyone, beginning in Jerusalem and dispersing through Samaria until they reached “the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Samaria was more than the next geographical sequence. It was the most painful part of the mission. The disciples must overcome lifetimes of prejudice to love people they didn’t like.

Does Jesus matter more than our grievances? There’s only one way to be sure. Love your “Samaritan.”

Who Needs Your Support?

By |2021-08-03T08:49:28-04:00August 1st, 2021|

Clifford Williams was sentenced to die for a murder he didn’t commit. From death row he vainly filed motions to reconsider the evidence against him. Each petition was denied—for forty-two years. Then attorney Shelley Thibodeau learned of his case. She found that not only was there no evidence to convict Williams, but that another man had confessed to the crime. At the age of seventy-six, Williams was finally exonerated and released.

 The prophets Jeremiah and Uriah were also in deep trouble. They had told Judah that God promised to judge His people if they didn’t repent (Jeremiah 26:12–13, 20). This message angered the people and officials of Judah, who sought to kill both prophets. They succeeded with Uriah. He fled to Egypt, but was brought back to face the king, who “had him struck down with a sword” (v. 23). Why didn’t they kill Jeremiah? In part because Ahikam “stood up for Jeremiah” (nlt), “and so he was not handed over to the people to be put to death” (v. 24 niv).

We may not know anyone facing death, but we probably know someone who could use our support. Whose rights are trampled? Whose talents are dismissed? Whose voice isn’t heard? It may be risky to step out like Thibodeau or Ahikam, but it’s so right. Who needs us to stand up for them as God guides us?

Jesus Restores Us

By |2021-07-12T09:06:04-04:00July 12th, 2021|

Although Sam had done nothing wrong, he lost his job on the assembly line. Carelessness in another division led to problems in cars they built. After several crashes made the news, leery customers stopped buying their brand. The company had to downsize, leaving Sam out of work. He’s collateral damage, and it isn’t fair. It never is.

History’s first collateral damage occurred immediately after the first sin. Adam and Eve were ashamed of their nakedness, so God graciously clothed them with “garments of skin” (v. 21). It’s painful to imagine, but one or more animals that had always felt safe with God were now slaughtered and skinned.

There was more to come. God told Israel, “Every day you are to provide a year-old lamb without defect for a burnt offering to the Lord; morning by morning you shall provide it” (Ezekiel 46:13). Every. Single. Day. How many thousands of animals have been sacrificed because of human sin?

Their death was necessary to cover our sin until Jesus, the Lamb of God, came to remove it (John 1:29). Call this “collateral repair.” As Adam’s sin kills us, so the Last Adam’s [Christ’s] obedience restores all who believe in Him (Romans 5:17–19). Collateral repair isn’t fair—it cost Jesus’ life—but it’s free. Reach out to Jesus in belief and receive the salvation He offers, and His righteous life will count for you.

Who Are You?

By |2021-06-10T09:06:04-04:00June 10th, 2021|

The leader of our video conference said, “Good morning!” I said “Hello” back, but I wasn’t looking at him. I was distracted by my own image on the screen. Do I look like this? I looked at the smiling faces of the others on the call. That looks like them. So yes, this must be me. I should lose some weight. And get a haircut.

In his mind, Pharaoh was pretty great. He was “a lion among the nations . . . a monster in the seas” (Ezekiel 32:2). But then he caught a glimpse of himself from God’s perspective. God said he was in trouble and that He would expose his carcass to wild animals, causing “many peoples to be appalled at you, and their kings [to] shudder with horror because of you” (v. 10). Pharaoh was much less impressive than he thought.

We may think we’re “spiritually handsome”—until we see our sin as God sees it. Compared to His holy standard, even “our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). But God also sees something else, something even more true. He sees Jesus, and us in Jesus.

Feeling discouraged about how you are? Remember this is not who you are. If you have put your trust in Jesus, then you are in Jesus, and His holiness drapes over you. You are more beautiful than you imagine.

Death Zone

By |2021-05-29T09:06:23-04:00May 29th, 2021|

In 2019, a climber saw his last sunrise from the peak of Mount Everest. He survived the dangerous ascent, but the high altitude squeezed his heart, and he passed away on the trek down. One medical expert warns climbers not to think of the summit as their journey’s end. They must get up and down quickly, remembering “they’re in the Death Zone.”

David survived his dangerous climb to the top. He killed lions and bears, slew Goliath, dodged Saul’s spear and pursuing army, and conquered Philistines and Ammonites to become king of the mountain.

But David forgot he was in the death zone. At the peak of his success, as “the Lord gave David victory wherever he went” (2 Samuel 8:6), he committed adultery and murder. His initial mistake? He lingered on the mountaintop. When his army set out for new challenges, he “remained in Jerusalem” (11:1). David once had volunteered to fight Goliath; now he relaxed in the accolades of his triumphs.

It’s hard to stay grounded when everyone, including God, says you’re special (2 Samuel 7:11–16). But we must. If we’ve achieved some success, we may appropriately celebrate the accomplishment and accept congratulations, but we must keep moving. We’re in the death zone. Come down the mountain. Humbly serve others in the valley—asking God to guard our heart and our steps.

 

Shift into Neutral

By |2021-05-25T09:06:06-04:00May 25th, 2021|

The man ahead of me at the carwash was on a mission. He purposefully strode to the back of his pickup and removed the hitch, so it wouldn’t snag the high-powered rolling brushes. He paid the attendant then pulled onto the automated track—where he left his truck in drive. The attendant shouted after him, “Neutral! Neutral!” but the man’s windows were up and he couldn’t hear. He zipped through the car wash in four seconds flat. His truck barely got wet.

Elijah was on a mission too. He was busy serving God in big ways. He had just defeated the prophets of Baal in a supernatural showdown, which left him drained (see 1 Kings 18:16–39). He needed time in neutral. God brought Elijah to Mount Horeb, where He had appeared to Moses long before. Once again God shook the mountain. But He wasn’t in the rock-shattering wind, earthquake, or raging fire. Instead, God came to Elijah in a gentle whisper. “When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out” to meet the Lord (1 Kings 19:13).

You and I are on a mission. We put our lives in drive to accomplish big things for our Savior. But if we never shift down to neutral, we can zip through life and miss the outpouring of His Spirit. God whispers, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Neutral! Neutral!

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