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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

Pure Worship

Jose pastored a church known for its programs and theatrical productions. They were great, yet he worried the church’s busyness had slipped into a business. Was the church growing for the right reasons or because of its activities? Jose wanted to find out, so he canceled all extra church events for one year. His congregation would focus on being a living temple where people worshiped God.

Jose’s decision seems extreme, until you notice what Jesus did when He entered the temple’s outer courts. The holy space that should have been full of simple prayers had become a flurry of worship business. “Get your doves here! Lily white, as God requires!” Jesus overturned the merchant’s tables and stopped those who bought their merchandise. What are you doing? He quoted Isaiah 56 and Jeremiah 7, “ ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.’ But you have made it ‘a den of robbers’” (Mark 11:17). The court of the Gentiles, the place for outsiders to worship God, had been turned into a mundane marketplace for making money.

There’s nothing wrong with business or staying busy. But that’s not the point of church. We’re the living temple of God, and our main task is to worship Jesus. We likely won’t need to flip over any tables as Jesus did, but He may be calling us to do something equally drastic.

Raise Praise

You can generally tell where a map was drawn by what lies in its middle. We tend to think our home is the center of the world, so we put a dot in the middle and sketch out from there. Nearby towns might be fifty kilometers to the north or half a day’s drive to the south, but all are described in relation to where we are. The Psalms draw their map from God’s earthly home in the Old Testament, so the center of biblical geography is Jerusalem.

Psalm 48 is one of many psalms that praises Jerusalem. This “city of our God, his holy mountain” is “beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth” (vv. 1–2). Because “God is in her citadels” He “makes her secure forever” (vv. 3, 8). God’s fame begins in Jerusalem’s temple and spreads outward until it reaches “the ends of the earth” (vv. 9–10).

Unless you are reading this in Jerusalem, your home is not in the center of the biblical world. You live on the edges, in the frontier. Your region matters immensely, because God will not rest until His praise reaches “to the ends of the earth” (v.10). Would you like to be part of the way God reaches His goal? Worship each week with God’s people, and openly live each day for His glory. God’s fame extends “to the ends of the earth” when we devote all that we are and all that we have to Him.

 

Going, Going, Gone

The mischievous artist Banksy pulled off another practical joke. His painting Girl with Balloon sold for one million pounds at Sotheby’s auction house in London. Moments after the auctioneer yelled “Sold,” an alarm sounded and the painting slipped halfway through a shredder mounted inside the bottom of the frame. Banksy tweeted a picture of bidders gasping at his ruined masterpiece, with the caption, “Going, going, gone.”

Banksy relished pulling one over on the wealthy, but he need not have bothered. Wealth itself has plenty of pranks up its sleeve. God says, “Do not wear yourself out to get rich . . . . Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle” (v. 5).

Few things are less secure than money. We work hard to earn it, yet there are many ways to lose it. Investments go sour, inflation erodes, bills come, thieves steal, and fire and flood destroy. Even if we manage to keep our money, the time we have to spend it continually flies. Blink, and your life is going, going, gone.

What to do? God tells us a few verses later: “always be zealous for the fear of the Lord. There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off” (vv. 17–18). Invest your life in Jesus; He alone will keep you forever.

Where Are You Headed?

In northern Thailand, the Wild Boars youth soccer team decided to explore a cave together. After an hour they turned to go back, and found that the entrance to the cave was flooded. Rising water pushed them deeper into the cave, day after day, until they were finally trapped four kilometers inside. When they were heroically rescued two weeks later, many wondered how they had become so hopelessly trapped. Answer: one step at a time.

In Israel, Nathan confronted David for killing his loyal soldier, Uriah. How did the man “after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14) become guilty of murder? One step at a time. David did not go from zero to murder in one afternoon. He warmed up to it, over time, as one bad decision bled into other, worse decisions. It started with a second glance that turned into a lustful stare. He abused his kingly power by sending for Bathsheba, then tried to cover up her pregnancy by calling her husband home from the front. When Uriah refused to visit his wife while his comrades were at war, David decided he would have to die.

We may not be guilty of murder or trapped in a cave of our own making, but we are either moving toward Jesus or toward trouble. Big problems don’t develop overnight. They break upon us gradually, one step at a time. Where are you headed?

What You’re Worth

Now an accomplished writer, Caitlin describes the depression she battled after fighting off an assault. The emotional violence cut deeper than her physical struggle, for she felt it proved “how undesirable I was. I was not the kind of girl you wanted to get to know.” She felt unworthy of love, the kind of person others use and toss aside.

God understands. He lovingly shepherded Israel, but when He asked them what He was worth, “they paid me thirty pieces of silver” (Zechariah 11:12). This was the price of a slave; what masters must be reimbursed should their slave be accidentally killed (Exodus 21:32). God was insulted to be offered the lowest possible value—look at “the handsome price at which they valued me!” He said sarcastically (Zechariah 11:13). And He threw the money away.

Jesus understands. He wasn’t merely betrayed by His friend; He was betrayed with contempt. The Jewish leaders despised Jesus, so they offered Judas thirty pieces of silver—the lowest price you could put on a person—and he took it (Matthew 26:14–15; 27:9). Judas thought so little of Jesus he sold Him for nearly nothing.

If people undervalued Jesus, don’t be surprised when they undervalue you. Your value is not what others say. It’s not even what you say. It’s entirely and only what God says. He thinks you are worth dying for.

He’s Got This

Pastor Watson Jones remembers learning to ride a bike. His father was walking alongside when little Watson saw some girls sitting on a porch. “Daddy, I got this!” he said. He didn’t. He realized too late he hadn’t learned to balance without his father’s steadying grip. He wasn’t as grown up as he thought.

Our heavenly Father longs for us to grow up and “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). But spiritual maturity is different from natural maturity. Parents raise their children to become independent, to no longer need them. Our divine Father raises us to daily depend on Him more.

Peter begins his letter by promising “grace and peace . . . through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord,” and he ends by urging us to “grow in” that same “grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:2; 3:18). Mature Christians never outgrow their need for Jesus.

Watson warns, “Some of us are busy slapping Jesus’s hands off the handlebars of our life.” As if we didn’t need His strong hands to hold us, to pick us up and hug us when we wobble and flop. We cannot grow beyond our dependence on Christ. We only grow by sinking our roots deeper in the grace and knowledge of Him.

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).

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