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Mike Wittmer

Mike Wittmer

Mike currently is Professor of Systematic Theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and serves as the pastor of Cedar Springs Baptist Church in Michigan. 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.

Articles by Mike Wittmer

Hope from Gehenna

In 1979, archaeologist Gabriel Barkay unearthed two small silver scrolls. It took years to delicately unroll the metal scrolls, and each was found to contain a Hebrew etching of the blessing from Numbers 6:24–26, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” Scholars date the scrolls to the seventh century BC. They’re the oldest known bits of Scripture in the world.

Equally interesting is where they were found. Barkay was digging in a cave in the Valley of Hinnom, where Jeremiah told Judah that God would slaughter them in this same valley for sacrificing their children (19:4–6). This valley was the site of such wickedness that Jesus used the word Gehenna” (a Greek transliteration of the “Valley of Hinnom”) as a picture of hell (Matthew 23:33).

On this spot, about the time Jeremiah was announcing God’s judgment on his nation, someone was etching His future blessing onto silver scrolls. It wouldn’t happen in their lifetime, but one day—on the other side of the Babylonian invasion—God would turn His face toward His people and give them peace.

The lesson for us is clear. Even if we deserve what we have coming, we can cling to God’s promise. His heart always yearns for His people.

When Weakness Is Strength

Drew had been imprisoned for two years because he served Jesus. He’d read stories of missionaries who felt constant joy throughout their incarceration, but he confessed “this was not my experience.” He told his wife that God had picked the wrong man to suffer for Him. She replied, “No. I think maybe He picked the right man. This was not an accident.”

 

Drew could likely relate to the prophet Jeremiah, who had faithfully served God by warning Judah that God would punish them for their sins. But God’s judgment hadn’t fallen yet, and Judah’s leaders beat Jeremiah and put him in stocks. Jeremiah blamed God: “You deceived me, Lord” (v. 7). The prophet believed God had failed to deliver. His word had only “brought me insult and reproach all day long” (v. 8). “Cursed be the day I was born!” Jeremiah said. “Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?” (vv. 14, 18).

Eventually Drew was released, but through his ordeal he began to understand that perhaps God chose him—much like He chose Jeremiah—because he was weak. If he and Jeremiah had been naturally strong, they might have received some of the praise for their success. But if they were naturally weak, all the glory for their perseverance would go to Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:26–31). His frailty made him the perfect person for Jesus to use.

Fleeing from Turkeys

Two wild turkeys stood in the country lane ahead. How close could I get? I wondered. I slowed my jog to a walk, then stopped. It worked. The turkeys walked toward me . . . and kept coming. In seconds their heads were bobbing at my waist, then behind me. How sharp were those beaks? I ran away. They waddled after me before giving up the chase. 

How quickly the tables had turned! The hunted became the hunter when the turkeys seized the initiative. Foolishly I wondered if they were too dumb to be scared. I wasn’t about to be carelessly wounded by a bird, so I fled. From turkeys.

David didn’t seem dangerous, so Goliath taunted him to come near. “‘Come here,’ he said, ‘and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!’” (1 Samuel 17:44). David flipped the script when he seized the initiative. He ran toward Goliath, not because he was foolish but because he had confidence in God. He shouted, “This very day . . . the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel” (v. 46). Goliath was puzzled by this aggressive boy. What’s going on? Then it hit him. Right between the eyes.

It’s natural for small animals to run from people and shepherds to avoid giants. It’s natural for us to hide from our problems. Why settle for natural? Is there a God in Israel? Then, in His power, run toward the fight.

The Power of Scripture

Stephen was an up-and-coming comedian, and a prodigal. Raised in a Christian family, he struggled with doubt after his dad and two brothers died in a plane crash. By his early twenties, he’d lost his faith. He found it one night on the frigid streets of Chicago. A stranger gave him a pocket New Testament, and Stephen cracked open the pages. An index said those struggling with anxiety should read Matthew 6:27–34, from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount.

Stephen turned there, and the words kindled a fire in his heart. He recalls, “I was absolutely, immediately lightened. I stood on the street corner in the cold and read the sermon, and my life has never been the same.”

Such is the power of Scripture. The Bible is unlike any other book, for it’s alive. We don’t read the Bible. The Bible reads us. “Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit . . . it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

Scripture presents the most powerful force on the planet, a force that transforms and leads you toward spiritual maturity. Open it and read it out loud, asking God to ignite your heart. He promises that the words He has spoken “will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). Your life will never be the same.

People Who Need People

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

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

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

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

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).