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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

Who Are You?

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

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

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!

Windows

Near the foothills of the Himalayas, a visitor noticed a row of houses without windows. His guide explained that some of the villagers feared that demons might sneak into their homes while they slept, so they built impermeable walls. You could tell when a homeowner began to follow Jesus, because he put in windows to let in the light.

A similar dynamic may take place in us, though we might not see it quite that way. We live in scary, polarizing times. Satan and his demons instigate angry divisions that split families and friends. I often feel like hiding behind my walls. Jesus wants me to cut in a window.

Israel sought refuge in higher walls, but God said their security lay with Him. He reigns from heaven, and His word governs all (Isaiah 55:10–11). If Israel would return to Him, God would “have mercy on them” (v. 7) and restore them as His people to bless the world (Genesis 12:1–3). He would lift them up, ultimately leading them in triumphal parade as all creation breaks into applause. Their celebration “will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever” (Isaiah 55:13).

Sometimes walls are necessary. Walls with windows are best. They show the world that we trust God for the future. Our fears are real. Our God is greater. Windows open us to Jesus—“the light of the world” (John 8:12)—and to others who need Him.

Got Your Nose

“Why are the statues’ noses broken?” That’s the number one question visitors ask Edward Bleiberg, curator of Egyptian art at the Brooklyn Museum.

        Bleiberg can’t blame it on normal wear and tear; even two-dimensional painted figures are missing noses. He surmises that such destruction must have been intentional. Enemies meant to kill Egypt’s gods. It’s as if they were playing a game of “got your nose” with them. Invading armies broke off the noses of these idols so they couldn’t breathe.

Really? That’s all it took? With gods like this, Pharaoh should have known he was in trouble. Yes, he had an army and the allegiance of a whole nation. The Hebrews were weary slaves led by a timid fugitive named Moses. But Israel had the living God, and Pharaoh’s gods were pretenders. Ten plagues later, their imaginary lives were snuffed out.

Israel celebrated their victory with the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when they ate bread without yeast for a week (Exodus 12:17; 13:7–9). Yeast symbolizes sin, and God wanted his people to remember their rescued lives belong entirely to Him.

Our Father says to idols, “Got your nose,” and to His children, “Got your life.” Serve the God who gives you breath, and rest in His loving arms.

Wearing Our Courage

Andrew lives in a country that is closed to the gospel. When I asked him how he keeps his faith a secret, he said he doesn’t. He boldly wears a button that advertises his church, and whenever he’s arrested he tells the police that “they need Jesus too.” Andrew has courage because he knows who’s on his side.

Elijah refused to be intimidated, even when the king of Israel sent fifty soldiers to arrest him (2 Kings 1:9). The prophet knew God was with him, and he called down fire that consumed the platoon. The king sent fifty more, and Elijah did it again (v. 12). The king sent fifty more, but the third platoon had heard about the others. The captain begged Elijah to spare his soldiers’ lives. They were more afraid of him than he’d ever been of them, so the angel of the Lord told Elijah it was safe to go with them (vv. 13–15).

Jesus doesn’t want us to call down fire on our enemies. When the disciples asked if they could go full Elijah (call down fire) on a Samaritan village, Jesus rebuked them (Luke 9:51–55). We’re living in a different time. But Jesus does want us to have the boldness of Elijah—to be ready to tell everyone about the Savior who died for them. It may seem like one person taking on fifty, but it’s actually One on fifty. Jesus provides what we need to courageously love and reach out to others.

What’s Your Song?

Most Americans knew little about Alexander Hamilton. Until 2015, when Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote his hit musical Hamilton. Now schoolchildren know Hamilton’s story by heart. They sing it to each other on the bus and at recess. He’s their favorite founding father.

God knows the power of music, and He told Moses to “write down this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it” (Deuteronomy 31:19). God knew that long after Moses was gone, when He had brought Israel into the Promised Land, they would rebel and worship other gods. So He told Moses, “This song will testify against them, because it will not be forgotten by their descendants” (v. 21).

Songs are nearly impossible to forget, so it’s wise to be selective about what we sing. Some songs are just for fun, and that’s fine, but we benefit from songs that boast in Jesus and encourage our faith. One of the ways we “[make] the most of every opportunity” is when we speak “to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.” So “sing and make music from your heart to the Lord” (see Ephesians 5:15–19).

Songs can be an indicator of the direction of our heart. Do the words make much of Jesus? Do we sing them whole-heartedly? What we sing will influence what we believe, so choose wisely and sing loudly. What’s your song?

Who Needs Me?

While on a red-eye flight to Washington, DC, opinion writer Arthur Brooks overheard an elderly woman whisper to her husband, “It’s not true that no one needs you anymore.” The man murmured something about wishing he were dead, and his wife replied, “Oh, stop saying that.” When the flight ended, Brooks turned around and immediately recognized the man. He was a world-famous hero. Other passengers shook his hand, and the pilot thanked him for the courage he displayed decades ago. How had this giant sunk into despair?

Elijah bravely and single-handedly defeated 450 prophets of Baal. That was the problem. He hadn’t really done it alone; God was there all along! But later, feeling all alone, he asked God to take his life.

God lifted Elijah’s spirits by bringing him into His presence and giving him new people to serve. He must go and “anoint Hazael king over Aram,” Jehu “king over Israel,” and Elisha “to succeed you as prophet” (1 Kings 19:15–16). Invigorated with renewed purpose, Elijah found and mentored his successor.

Your great victories may lie in the rearview mirror. You may feel your life has peaked, or that it never did. No matter. Look around. The battles may seem smaller, the stakes less profound, but there are still others who need you. Serve them well for Jesus’ sake, and it will count. They are your purpose—the reason you’re still here.

Who Are You Wearing?

Argentina’s women’s basketball team came to their tournament game wearing the wrong uniforms. Their navy blue jerseys were too similar to Columbia’s dark blue jerseys, and as the visiting team they should have worn white. With no time to find replacement uniforms and change, they had to forfeit the game. In the future, Argentina will surely double-check, What are we wearing?

In the time of the prophet Zechariah, God showed him a vision in which the high priest Joshua came before God wearing smelly, filthy clothes. Satan sneered and pointed. He’s disqualified! Game over! But there was time to change. God rebuked Satan and told His angel to remove Joshua’s grubby garments. He turned to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you” (Zechariah 3:4).

We came into this world wearing the stench of Adam’s sin, which we layer over with sin of our own. If we stay in our filthy clothes, we’ll lose the game of life. If we become disgusted with our sin and turn to Jesus, He will dress us from head to toe with Himself and His righteousness. It’s time to check, Who are we wearing?

The final stanza of the hymn "The Solid Rock" explains how we win. “When He shall come with trumpet sound, Oh, may I then in Him be found; Dressed in His righteousness alone, Faultless to stand before the throne.”

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