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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.

Do I Belong?

By |2024-07-09T02:33:06-04:00July 9th, 2024|

Actress Sally Field finally felt what we all long for. When she won a second Oscar in 1985, she exclaimed in her acceptance speech: “I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn’t feel it. But this time I feel it. And I can't deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me.”

An Ethiopian eunuch was also amazed by his acceptance. As a gentile and as a eunuch, he was denied entrance into the temple’s inner courts (see Ephesians 2:11–12 and Deuteronomy 23:1). Yet he yearned to be included. Philip found him returning from another unsatisfying pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Acts 8:27).

The Ethiopian man was reading Isaiah, which promised that eunuchs who “hold fast to my covenant” will receive “an everlasting name” and “[a memorial] within my temple and its walls” (Isaiah 56:4–5). How could this be? Then Philip “told him the good news about Jesus,” and the man responded, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” (Acts 8:35–36).

He was asking, Am I really allowed in? Do I belong? Philip baptized him as a sign that Jesus had bulldozed every barrier (Ephesians 2:14). Jesus embraces—and unites—everyone who turns from sin and puts their trust in Him. The man “went on his way rejoicing.” He finally and fully belonged (Acts 8:39).

Calling Our Heavenly Father

By |2024-07-04T02:33:14-04:00July 4th, 2024|

Minutes after U.S. President Harry Truman announced the end of World War II, a phone rang in a small clapboard house in Grandview, Missouri. A ninety-two-year-old woman excused herself to take the call. Her guest heard her say, “Hello. . . . Yes, I’m all right. Yes, I’ve been listening to the radio. . . . Now you come and see me if you can. . . . Goodbye.” The elderly woman returned to her guest. “That was [my son] Harry. Harry’s a wonderful man. . . . I knew he’d call. He always calls me after something that happens is over.”

No matter how accomplished, no matter how old, we yearn to call our parents. To hear their affirming words, “Well done!” We may be wildly successful, but we’ll always be their son or daughter.

Sadly, not everyone has this kind of relationship with their earthly parents. But through Jesus we all can have God as our Father. We who follow Christ are brought into the family of God, for “the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship” (v. 15). We’re now “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (v. 17). We don’t speak to God as a slave but now have the freedom to use the intimate name Jesus used in His hour of desperate need, “Abba, Father” (v. 15; see also Mark 14:36).

Do you have news? Do you have needs? Call the one who is your eternal home.

House of Worship

By |2024-06-22T02:33:18-04:00June 22nd, 2024|

When Britain’s House of Commons was bombed in World War II, Prime Minister Winston Churchill told Parliament they must rebuild it according to its original design. It must be small, so debates remained face to face. It must be oblong rather than semi-circular, allowing politicians to “move around the center.” This preserved Britain’s party system, where Left and Right faced each other across the room, requiring careful thought before switching sides. Churchill concluded, “We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.”

God seems to agree. Eight chapters in Exodus (24-31) give instructions on building the tabernacle, and six more (35-40) describe how Israel did it. God cared about their worship. When the people entered the courtyard, the gleaming gold and the tabernacle’s colorful curtains (26:1, 31-36) dazzled them. The altar of burnt offering (27:1-8) and water basin (30:17-21) reminded them of the cost of their forgiveness. The tabernacle contained a lampstand (25:31-40), bread table (25:23-30), altar of incense (30:1-6), and ark of the covenant (25:10-22). Each item held great significance.

God doesn’t give us detailed instructions for our worship space as He did with Israel, yet our worship is no less vital. Our very being is to be a tabernacle set apart for Him to dwell in. May everything we do remind us of who He is and what He does.

House Gods

By |2024-06-08T02:33:06-04:00June 8th, 2024|

The men in the Bible study group were nearly eighty years old, so I was surprised to learn they struggled with lust. A battle that had begun in their youth lingered still. Each day they pledged to follow Jesus in this area and asked forgiveness for the moments they failed.

It may surprise us that godly men still fight against base temptations at a late stage in life, but maybe it shouldn’t. An idol is anything that threatens to take the place of God in our lives, and such things can show up long after we assume they’re gone.

In the Bible, Jacob had been rescued from his uncle Laban and his brother Esau. He was returning to Bethel to worship God and celebrate His many blessings, yet his family still kept foreign gods that Jacob had to bury (Genesis 35:2–4). At the end of the book of Joshua, after Israel had defeated their enemies and settled in Canaan, Joshua still had to urge them to “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord” (Joshua 24:23). And King David’s wife Michal apparently kept idols, for she put one in his bed to deceive the soldiers who came to kill him (1 Samuel 19:11–16).

Idols are more common than we think, and God is more patient than we deserve. Temptations to turn to them will come, but God’s forgiveness is greater. May we be set apart for Jesus—turning from our sins and finding forgiveness in Him.

Keeping Our Spiritual Edge

By |2024-05-22T02:33:09-04:00May 22nd, 2024|

The Rocky movies tell the story of a raw boxer, fueled by never-say-die determination, who overcomes improbable odds to become heavyweight champion. In Rocky III, a now successful Rocky becomes impressed with his own achievements. Television commercials disrupt his time in the gym. The champ grows soft, and he’s knocked out by a challenger. The rest of the movie is Rocky’s attempt to regain his fighting edge.

In a spiritual sense, King Asa of Judah lost his fighting edge. Early in his reign, he relied on God in the face of daunting odds. As the mighty Cushites prepared to attack, Asa prayed, “Help us, Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army” (2 Chronicles 14:11). God answered his prayer, and Judah struck down and scattered their enemies (vv. 12-15).

Years later, Judah was threatened again. This time a complacent Asa ignored God and instead asked the king of Aram for help (16:2). It seemed to work. But God wasn’t pleased. The prophet Hanani told Asa that he’d stopped trusting God (vv. 7–8). Why hadn’t he relied on God now as he had then?

Our God is unfailingly reliable. His eyes “range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (v. 9). When we keep our spiritual edge—fully depending on God—we’ll experience His power.

Fruitful Believers in Christ

By |2024-03-27T02:33:12-04:00March 27th, 2024|

Cindy was excited for her new job in a nonprofit company. What an opportunity to make a difference! She soon discovered her coworkers didn’t share her enthusiasm. They mocked the company’s mission and made excuses for their poor performance as they looked elsewhere for more lucrative positions. Cindy wished she’d never applied for this job. What looked great from afar was disappointing up close.

This was Jesus’ problem with the fig tree mentioned in today’s story (Mark 11:13). It was early in the season, yet the tree’s leaves signaled it might have early figs. Nope. The tree had sprouted leaves, but it hadn’t yet produced fruit. Disappointed, Jesus cursed the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again” (v. 14). By next morning the tree had entirely withered (v. 20).

Jesus once fasted forty days, so He knew how to go without food. Cursing the fig tree was not about His appetite. It was an object lesson. The tree represented Israel, which had the trappings of true religion but had lost the point. They were about to kill their Messiah, the Son of God. How more barren could they be?

We may look good from afar, but Jesus comes near, looking for fruit that only His Spirit can produce. Our fruit need not be spectacular. But it must be supernatural, such as love, joy, and peace in hard times (Galatians 5:22). Relying on the Spirit, we can bear fruit even then for Jesus.

Extravagant Love

By |2024-03-23T02:33:14-04:00March 23rd, 2024|

My seatmate on the flight told me she was non-religious and had immigrated to a town that was home to numerous Christians. When she mentioned that most of her neighbors went to church, I asked about her experience. She said she could never repay their generosity. When she brought her disabled father to her new country, her neighbors built a ramp to her house and donated a hospital bed and medical supplies. She said, “If being a Christian makes one so kind, everyone should be a Christian.”

Exactly what Jesus hoped she’d say! He told His disciples, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Peter heard Christ’s command and passed it on, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12).

Our neighbors who don’t have faith in Jesus may not understand what we believe and why we believe it. Don’t sweat it, as long as there’s one more thing they can’t understand: the extravagance of our love. My seatmate marveled that her Christian neighbors continue to care for her even though she isn’t, in her words, “one of them.” She knows she’s loved, for Jesus’s sake, and she gives thanks to God. She may not yet believe in Him, but she’s grateful that others do.

Welcome the Stranger

By |2024-02-23T01:33:06-05:00February 23rd, 2024|

In Everything Sad Is Untrue, Daniel Nayeri describes his harrowing flight with his mother and sister from persecution through a refugee camp to safety in the United States. An elderly couple agreed to sponsor them, though they didn’t know them. Years later, Daniel still can’t get over it. He writes, “Can you believe that? Totally blind, they did that. They’d never even met us. And if we turned out to be villains, they’d have to pay for it. That’s almost as brave, kind, and reckless as I can think of anybody being.”

Yet God desires us to have that level of concern for others. He told Israel to be kind to foreigners. “Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34). He reminds gentile believers in Jesus—that’s many of us—that once we “were separate from Christ . . . and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). So He commands all of us former foreigners, both Jew and gentile, “to show hospitality to strangers” (Hebrews 13:2).

Now grown-up with a family of his own, Daniel praises Jim and Jean Dawson, “who were so Christian that they let a family of refugees come live with them until they could find a home.”

God welcomes the stranger and urges us to welcome them too.

Learning from Scars

By |2023-12-19T01:33:04-05:00December 19th, 2023|

Faye touched the scars on her abdomen. She had endured another surgery to remove esophageal-stomach cancer. This time doctors had taken part of her stomach and left a jagged scar that revealed the extent of their work. She told her husband, “Scars represent either the pain of cancer or the start of healing. I choose my scars to be symbols of healing.”

Jacob faced a similar choice after his all-night wrestling match with God. The divine assailant wrenched Jacob’s hip out of socket, so that he left their tussle exhausted and with a noticeable limp. Months later, when Jacob massaged his tender hip, I wonder what he reflected on?

Was he filled with regret for his years of deceit that forced this fateful match? The divine messenger had wrestled the truth out of him, refusing to bless him until Jacob owned up to who he was. He confessed he was Jacob, the “heel grabber” (see Genesis 25:26). He’d played tricks on his brother Esau and father-in-law Laban, tripping them to gain advantage. The divine wrestler said Jacob’s new name would be “Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome” (v. 28).

Jacob’s limp represented the death of his old life of deceit and the beginning of his new life with God. The end of Jacob and the start of Israel. His limp led him to lean on God, who now moved powerfully in and through him.

God Is More than Enough

By |2023-12-11T01:33:06-05:00December 11th, 2023|

Ellen was on a tight budget, so she was glad to receive a Christmas bonus. That would have been enough. When she deposited the money, however, she received another surprise. The teller said that as a Christmas present the bank had deposited her January mortgage payment into her checking account. Now she and Trey could pay other bills and bless someone else with a Christmas surprise!

God has a way of blessing us beyond what we expect. Naomi was bitter and broken by the death of her husband and sons (Ruth 1:20). Her desperate situation was rescued by Boaz, a relative who married her daughter-in-law and provided a home for her and Naomi (4:10).

That might have been all Naomi could hope for. But then God blessed Ruth and Boaz with a son. Now Naomi had a grandson to “renew your life and sustain you in your old age” (v. 15). That would have been enough. As the women of Bethlehem put it, “Naomi has a son!” (v. 17). Then little Obed grew—and became the father of Jesse, the father of David (v. 17). Naomi’s family belonged to Israel’s royal line, the most important dynasty in history! That would have been enough. David, however, became the ancestor of . . . Jesus.

If we believe in Christ, we’re in a similar position to Naomi. We had nothing until He redeemed us. Now we’re fully accepted by our Father, who blesses us to bless others. That is so much more than enough.

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