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Mike Wittmer

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.

Articles by Mike Wittmer

Live Like Jesus Is Coming

I’m inspired by Tim McGraw’s song “Live Like You Were Dying.” In it he describes some of the exciting “bucket list” things a man did after receiving some bad news about his health. He also chose to love and forgive people more freely—speaking to them more tenderly. The song recommends that we live well, as if knowing our lives will end soon.

This song reminds us that our time is limited. It’s important for us to not put off for tomorrow what we can do today, because one day we’ll run out of tomorrows. This is particularly urgent for believers in Jesus, who believe that Jesus may return at any moment (perhaps in the very second you’re reading this sentence!). Jesus urges us to be ready, not living like the five “foolish” virgins who were caught unprepared when the bridegroom returned (Matthew 25:6–9).

But McGraw’s song doesn’t tell the whole story. We who love Jesus will never run out of tomorrows. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25–26). Our life in Him never ends.

So don’t live like you’re dying. Because you’re not. Rather, live like Jesus is coming. Because He is.

Tight Circles

A classmate gave my family a registered collie that had become too old to breed puppies. We soon learned this beautiful dog had, sadly, spent much of her life inside a small pen. She would only walk in tight circles. She couldn’t fetch or run in a straight line. And even with a large yard in which to play, she thought she was fenced in.

The first Christians, many who were Jews, were used to being fenced in by the Mosaic law. Though the law was good and had been given by God to convict them of sin and lead them to Jesus (Galatians 3:19-25), it was time to live out their new faith based in God’s grace and the freedom of Christ. They hesitated. After all this time, were they really free?

We may have the same problem. Perhaps we grew up in churches with rigid rules that fenced us in. Or we were raised in permissive homes and are now desperate for the security of rules. Either way, it’s time to embrace our freedom in Christ (Galatians 5:1). Jesus has freed us to obey Him out of love (John 14:21) and to “serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13). An entire field of joy and love is open for those who realize “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Lincoln’s Pockets

The night Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theater, his pockets contained the following: two spectacles, a lens polisher, a pocketknife, a watch fob, a handkerchief, a leather wallet containing a five-dollar Confederate bill, and eight newspaper clippings, including several that praised him and his policies.

I wonder what the Confederate money was doing in the President’s pocket, but I have little doubt about the glowing news stories. Everyone needs encouragement, even a great leader like Lincoln! Can you see him, in the moments before the fateful play, perhaps reading them to his wife?

Who do you know who needs encouragement? Everyone! Look around you. There isn’t one person in your line of vision who is as confident as they seem. We’re all one failure, snide comment, or bad hair day from self-doubt.

What if we all obeyed God’s command to “please our neighbors for their good, to build them up”? (v. 2). What if we determined only to speak “gracious words” that are “sweet to the soul and healing to the bones”? (Proverbs 16:24). What if we wrote these words down, so friends could reread and savor them? Then we’d all have notes in our pockets (or on our phones!). And we’d be more like Jesus, who “did not please himself” but lived for others (Romans 15:3).

All for Nothing

Heroin addiction is poignantly tragic. Users build tolerance, so larger hits are required for the same high. Soon the dosage they seek is more than enough to kill them. When addicts hear someone has died from an exceptionally strong batch, their first thought may not be fear but “Where can I get that?”

C. S. Lewis warned of this downward spiral in Screwtape Letters, his imaginative look at a demon’s explanation of the art of temptation. Start with some pleasure—if possible one of God’s good pleasures—and offer it in a way God has forbidden. Once the person bites, give less of it while enticing him to want more. Provide “an ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure,” until finally we “get the man's soul and give him nothing in return.”

Proverbs 7 illustrates this devastating cycle with the temptation of adultery. Sex is God’s good gift, but when we seek its enjoyment outside of marriage we are “like an ox going to the slaughter” (v. 22). People stronger than us have destroyed themselves with illicit highs, so “pay attention” and “do not let your heart turn to her ways” (v. 25). Sin tastes sweet at first—that’s why it’s tempting—but it always ends in death (v. 27). Avoid the careless ruin and folly of sin. Resist the first bite. And call out for help.

Wise Aid

As I stopped my car at a red light, I saw the same man standing beside the road again. He held a cardboard sign: Need money for food. Anything helps. I looked away and sighed. Was I the kind of person who ignored the needy?

Some people pretend to have needs but are actually con artists. Others have legitimate needs but face difficulties overcoming destructive habits. Social workers tell us it’s better to give money to the many aid ministries in our city. I swallowed hard and drove past. I felt badly, but I may have acted wisely.

God commands us to “warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). To do this well we must know who belongs in which category. If we warn a weak or disheartened person we may break her spirit; if we help an idle person we may encourage laziness. Consequently, we help best from up close, when we know the person well enough to know what he needs.

Has God burdened your heart to help someone? Great! Now the work begins. Don’t assume you know what that person needs. Ask her to share her story, and listen. Prayerfully give as seems wise, and not merely to feel better about yourself. When we truly aim “to do what is good for each other,” we will more readily “be patient with everyone,” even when they stumble (vv. 14–15).

Your Eulogy

My heart is full from attending the funeral of a faithful woman. Her life wasn’t spectacular. She wasn’t known widely outside her church, neighbors, and friends. But she loved Jesus, her seven children, and twenty-five grandchildren. She laughed easily, served generously, and could hit a softball a long way.

Ecclesiastes says, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting” (7:2). “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning” because there we learn what matters most (7:4). New York Times columnist David Brooks says there are two kinds of virtues: those that look good on a résumé and those you want said at your funeral. Sometimes these overlap, though often they seem to compete. When in doubt, always choose the eulogy virtues.

The woman in the casket didn’t have a résumé, but her children testified that “she rocked Proverbs 31” and its description of a godly woman. She inspired them to love Jesus and care for others. As Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1), so they challenged us to imitate their mother’s life as she imitated Jesus.

What will be said at your funeral? What do you want said? It’s not too late to develop eulogy virtues. Rest in Jesus. His salvation frees us to live for what matters most.

 

Minister of Loneliness

Since her husband died, Betsy spends most days in her flat, watching television and boiling tea for one. She is not alone in her loneliness. More than nine million Brits (15 percent of the population) say they often or always feel lonely, and Great Britain has appointed a minister of loneliness to find out why and how to help.

Some causes of loneliness are well known: We move too often to put down roots. We can take care of ourselves, and we don’t have a reason to reach out. We are separated by technology—each of us immersed in our own flickering screens.

I feel the dark edge of loneliness, and you may too. This is one reason we need fellow believers. Hebrews concludes its deep discussion of Jesus’s sacrifice by encouraging us to meet together continually (10:25). We belong to the family of God, so love “one another as brothers and sisters” and “[show] hospitality to strangers” (13:1–2). If we each made an effort, everyone would feel cared for.

Lonely people may not return our kindness, but this is no reason to give up. Jesus has promised to never leave nor forsake us (13:5), and we may use His friendship to fuel our love for others. Are you lonely? What ways can you find to serve the family of God? The friends you make in Jesus last forever, through this life and beyond.

Serving the Smallest

The video showed a man kneeling beside a busy freeway during an out of control brush fire. He was clapping his hands and pleading with something to come. What was it? A dog? Moments later a bunny hopped into the picture. The man scooped up the scared rabbit and scampered to safety.

How did the rescue of such a small thing make national news? That is why. There is something endearing about compassion shown to the least of these. It takes a big heart to make room for the smallest creature.

Jesus said the kingdom of God is like a man who gave a banquet and made room for everyone who was willing to come. Not just the movers and shakers but also “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” (Luke 14:21). I’m thankful that God targets the weak and the seemingly insignificant, because otherwise I’d have no shot. Paul said, “God chose the weak things of this world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things . . . so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:27–29).

How big must God’s heart be to save a small person like me! In response, how large has my heart grown to be? I can easily tell, not by how I please the “important people,” but by how I serve the ones society might deem the least important.

When You’re Not Chosen

My friend's Facebook post announced he had finished a project. Others congratulated him, but his post knifed my heart. That project was supposed to be mine. I had been passed over, and I wasn't sure why.

Poor Joseph. He was passed over by God, and he knew why. Joseph was one of two men in the running to replace Judas. The disciples prayed, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen" (Acts 1:24). God chose the other guy. Then He announced His decision to the group, when "the lot fell to Matthias" (v. 26).

As the disciples congratulated Matthias, I wonder about Joseph. How did he handle his rejection? Did he feel jilted, wallow in self-pity, and distance himself from the others? Or did he trust God and cheerfully remain in a supportive role?

I know which option is best. And I know which option I'd want to take. How embarrassing! If you don't want me, fine. Let's see how you do without me. That choice might feel better, but only because it's selfish.

Joseph isn't mentioned again in Scripture, so we don't know how he reacted. More relevant is how we respond when we're not chosen. May we remember that Jesus's kingdom matters more than our success, and may we joyfully serve in whatever role He selects.

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