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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.

People Who Need People

By |2022-09-22T02:35:04-04:00September 22nd, 2022|

In his hall-of-fame career as a sportswriter Dave Kindred covered hundreds of major sporting events and championships and wrote a biography of Muhammad Ali. Growing bored in retirement, he started attending girls’ basketball games at a local school. Soon he began writing stories about each game and posting them online. And when Dave’s mother and grandson died and his wife suffered a debilitating stroke, he realized the team he’d been covering provided him with a sense of community and purpose. He needed them as much as they needed him. Kindred said, “This team saved me. My life had turned dark . . . [and] they were light.”

How does a legendary journalist come to depend on a community of teenagers? The same way a legendary apostle leaned on the fellowship of those he met on his missionary journeys. Did you notice all the people Paul greeted as he closed his letter? (Romans 16:7–11). “Greet Andronicus and Junia,” he wrote, “my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me” (v. 7). “Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord” (v. 8). More than twenty-five people in all, most of whom are not mentioned in Scripture again. But Paul needed them.

Who’s in your community? The best place to begin is with your local church. Anyone there whose life has turned dark? As God leads, you can be a light that points them to Jesus. Someday they may return the favor.

Whale of a Story

By |2022-09-13T02:33:03-04:00September 13th, 2022|

Michael was diving for lobster when a humpback whale caught him in its mouth. He pushed back in the darkness as the whale’s muscles squeezed against him. He thought he was done. But whales don’t prefer lobstermen, and thirty seconds later the whale spit Michael into the air. Amazingly, Michael had no broken bones—only extensive bruises and one whale of a story.

He wasn’t the first. Jonah was swallowed by “a huge fish” (Jonah 1:17), and he stayed in its belly three days before being vomited onto land (2:1, 10). Unlike Michael, who was caught by accident, Jonah was swallowed because he hated Israel’s enemies and didn’t want them to repent. When God told Jonah to preach in Nineveh, he caught a boat going the other way. So God sent a whale-sized fish to get his attention.

I appreciate why Jonah hated the Assyrians. They’d harassed Israel in the past, and within fifty years they would carry the northern tribes into captivity where they would vanish forever. Jonah was understandably offended that Assyria might be forgiven.

But Jonah was more loyal to the people of God than to the God of all people. God loved Israel’s enemies and wanted to save them. He loves our enemies and wants to save them. With the wind of the Spirit at our backs, let’s sail toward them with the good news of Jesus.

When Knowledge Hurts

By |2022-08-31T02:33:11-04:00August 31st, 2022|

Zach Elder and his friends pulled up to shore after a twenty-five-day rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. The man who came to retrieve their rafts told them about the COVID-19 virus. They thought he was joking. But as they left the canyon their phones pinged with their parents’ urgent messages. Zach and his friends were stunned. They wished they could return to the river and escape what they now knew.

In a fallen world, knowledge often brings pain. The wise Teacher of Ecclesiastes observed, “With much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief” (v. 18). Who hasn’t envied a child’s blissful ignorance? She doesn’t yet know about racism, violence, and cancer. Weren’t we happier before we grew up and discerned our own weaknesses and vices? Before we learned our family’s secrets—why our uncle drinks heavily or what caused our parents’ divorce?

The pain from knowledge can’t be wished away. Once we know, it’s no use pretending we don’t. But there’s a higher knowledge that empowers us to endure, even thrive. Jesus is the Word of God, the light that shines in our darkness (John 1:1–5). He “has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). Your pain is your reason to run to Jesus. He knows you and cares for you.

Live Like You’re Healed

By |2022-07-22T02:33:03-04:00July 22nd, 2022|

Two sisters from India were born blind. Their father was a hard-working provider, but he could never afford the surgery that would give them sight. Then a team of doctors came to their region on a short-term medical mission. The morning after their surgery, the girls smiled wide as the nurse unwrapped their bandages. One exclaimed, “Mother, I can see! I can see!”

A man who had been lame since birth sat in his usual spot at a temple gate, begging for money. Peter told the man he didn’t have coins, but he had something better. “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6). The man “jumped to his feet and began to walk.” And then he ran. And jumped, and praised God (vv. 8–9).

The sisters and the man appreciated their eyes and legs more than those who were never blind or lame. The girls couldn’t stop blinking in amazement and celebration, and the man “jumped to his feet.”

Consider your own natural abilities. How might you enjoy these abilities more, and how might you use them differently, if you had been miraculously healed? Now consider this. If you believe in Jesus, He has healed you spiritually. He’s rescued you from your sins.

Let’s thank the One who made and saved us, and dedicate all that He gave us to Him.

Investing in Others

By |2022-06-15T09:06:03-04:00June 15th, 2022|

When a corporation offered one thousand frequent flier miles for every ten purchases of one of their foods, one man realized their cheapest product was individual cups of chocolate pudding. He bought more than twelve thousand. For $3,000 (US), he received gold status and a lifetime supply of air miles for himself and his family. He also donated the pudding to charity, which netted him an $800 tax write-off. Genius!

Jesus told a controversial parable about a cunning manager who, as he was being fired, reduced what debtors owed his master. The man knew he could rely on their help later for the favor he was doing them now. Jesus wasn’t praising the manager’s unethical business practice, but He knew we could learn from his ingenuity. Jesus said we should shrewdly “use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9). As “the pudding guy” turned twenty-five cent desserts into flights, so we may use our “worldly wealth” to gain “true riches” (v. 11).

What are these riches? Jesus said, “give to the poor” and you will “provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” Our investment doesn’t earn, but it does affirm our salvation, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (12:32–34).

Love Like Mom

By |2022-05-07T09:06:04-04:00May 7th, 2022|

Juanita told her nephew about growing up during the Great Depression. Her poor family only had apples to eat, plus whatever wild game her dad might provide. Whenever he bagged a squirrel for dinner, her mom would say, “Give me that squirrel head. That’s all I want to eat. It’s the best piece of meat.” Years later Juanita realized there wasn’t any meat on a squirrel’s head. Her mom didn’t eat it. She only pretended it was a delicacy “so us kids could get more to eat and we wouldn’t worry about her.”

As we celebrate Mother’s Day tomorrow, may we also recount stories of our mothers’ devotion. We thank God for them, and strive to love more like them.

Paul served the Thessalonian church “as a nursing mother cares for her children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7). He loved fiercely, fighting through “strong opposition” to tell them about Jesus and to share his own life with them (vv. 2, 8). He “worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while [he] preached the gospel of God to [them]” (v. 9). Just like Mom.

Few can resist a mother’s love, and Paul modestly said his efforts were “not without results” (v. 1). We can’t control how others respond, but we can choose to show up, day after day, to serve them in a sacrificial way. Mom would be proud, and so will our heavenly Father.

Father of Lies

By |2022-05-02T09:06:05-04:00May 2nd, 2022|

Victor slowly became addicted to pornography. Many of his friends looked at porn, and he fell into it because he was bored. But now he understands how it crushed his wife, and he’s vowed to put safeguards in his life so he will never look at it again. Yet he fears it’s too late. Can his marriage be saved? Will he ever be free and fully forgiven?

Our enemy the devil presents temptation as if it’s no big deal. Everyone’s doing it. What’s the harm? But the moment we catch on to his scheme, he switches gears. It’s too late! You’ve gone too far! You’re hopeless now!

The enemy will say whatever it takes to destroy us as we engage in spiritual warfare. Jesus said, “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

If the devil is a liar, then we should never listen to him. Not when he says our sin is no big deal, and not when he says we’re beyond hope. May Jesus help us dismiss the evil one’s words and listen to Him instead. We rest our hearts on His promise: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (vv. 31–32).

Spiritual Diagnosis

By |2022-04-29T09:06:05-04:00April 29th, 2022|

Chemotherapy reduced the tumor in my father-in-law’s pancreas, until it didn’t. As the tumor began to grow again, he was left with a life-and-death decision. He asked his doctor, “Should I take more of this chemo or try something else, perhaps a different drug or radiation?” 

The people of Judah had a similar life-and-death question. Weary from war and famine, God’s people wondered whether their problem was too much idolatry or not enough. They concluded they should offer more sacrifices to a false god and see if she would protect and prosper them (Jeremiah 44:17).

Jeremiah said they had wildly misdiagnosed their situation. Their problem wasn’t a lack of commitment to idols; their problem was that they had them. They told the prophet, “We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord!” (v. 16). Jeremiah replied, “Because you have burned incense and have sinned against the Lord and have not obeyed him or followed his law or his decrees or his stipulations, this disaster has come upon you” (v. 23).

Like Judah, we may be tempted to double down on sinful choices that have landed us in trouble. Relationship problems? We can be more aloof. Financial issues? We’ll spend our way to happiness. Pushed aside? We’ll be equally ruthless. But the idols that contributed to our problems can’t save us. Only Jesus can carry us through our troubles as we turn to Him.

Little Foxes

By |2022-03-18T09:06:04-04:00March 18th, 2022|

A pilot couldn’t fit his tea into the cupholder so he set it on the center console. When the plane hit turbulence the drink spilled onto the control panel, shutting off an engine. The flight was diverted and landed safely, but when it happened again to a crew from a different airline two months later, the manufacturer realized there was a problem. The plane cost US$300 million, but its cupholders were too small. This seemingly small oversight led to some harrowing moments.

Small details can wreck the grandest plans, so the man in the Song of Songs urges his lover to catch “the little foxes that ruin the vineyards” of their love (2:15). He’d seen foxes climb over walls and dig out vines in search of grapes. They were hard to catch as they darted into the vineyard then melted back into the night. But they must not be ignored.

What threatens your closest relationships? It may not be large offenses. It might be the little foxes, a small comment here or a slight there that digs at the root of your love. Minor offenses add up, and what once was a blossoming friendship or passionate marriage might be in danger of dying.

May God help us catch the little foxes! Let’s ask for and grant forgiveness as needed and nourish our vineyards in the soil of ordinary acts of thoughtfulness as God provides what we need.

All Creatures Great and Small

By |2022-03-09T08:06:06-05:00March 9th, 2022|

Michelle Grant trained a baby beaver named Timber to return to the wild. When she took him for swims in a pond, he’d come back to her kayak to snuggle and rub noses. One morning Timber didn’t return. Michelle scoured the pond for six hours before giving up. Weeks later she found a beaver skull. Assuming it was Timber, she began to cry.

My soul ached for Michelle and Timber. I told myself, “Snap out of it. He’s just a large, aquatic rodent.” But the truth is I cared—and so does God. His love reaches high to the heavens and down to the smallest creature, part of the creation He calls us to steward well (Genesis 1:28). He preserves “both people and animals” (Psalm 36:5–6), providing “food for the cattle and for the young ravens” (Psalm 147:9).

One day Michelle was kayaking in a neighbor’s pond and surprise, there was Timber! He’d found a beaver family and was helping them raise two kits. He surfaced beside Michelle’s kayak. She smiled, “You look well. You have a beautiful family.” He cooed, splashed his tail, and swam to his new mom.

I love happy endings, especially my own! Jesus promised that as His Father feeds the birds, so He will supply whatever we need (Matthew 6:25–26). Not one sparrow falls “to the ground outside your Father’s care. . . . So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29–31).

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