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Mike Wittmer

Mike Wittmer

Mike Wittmer is Professor of Systematic Theology at Cornerstone Theological Seminary and Senior Pastor of Cedar Springs Baptist Church in Michigan. His books include Heaven Is a Place on Earth (Zondervan), The Last Enemy (Discovery House Publishers), Despite Doubt (Discovery House Publishers), Becoming Worldly Saints (Zondervan), The Bible Explainer (Barbour), and Urban Legends of Theology (B & H). Mike and his wife, Julie, love serving their church together and making memories with their adult children.

Articles by Mike Wittmer

Keeping Our Spiritual Edge

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Welcomed Home by God

When Sherman Smith recruited Deland McCullough to play American football for Miami University, he loved Deland and became the father Deland never had. Deland had great admiration for Sherman and aimed to become the man he was. Decades later, when Deland tracked down his birth mom, she shocked him with the news, “Your father’s name is Sherman Smith.” Yes, that Sherman Smith. Coach Smith was stunned to learn he had a son, and Deland was stunned that his father figure was literally his father!

The next time they met, Sherman hugged Deland and said, “My son.” Deland had never heard that from a father. He knew Sherman “was saying it from a place of ‘I’m proud. This is my son,’ ” and he was overwhelmed.

We too should be overwhelmed by the perfect love of our heavenly Father. John writes, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” We are as dumbfounded as Deland, who didn’t dare think someone like Sherman could be his dad. Is it really true? John insists, Yes, “And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).

If you believe in Jesus, His Father is also your Dad. You may feel orphaned, alone in the world. But the truth is you have a Father—the only perfect One—and He’s proud to call you His child.

Three Kings

In the hit musical Hamilton, England’s King George III is humorously portrayed as a cartoonish, deranged villain. However, a new biography on King George said he was not the tyrant described in Hamilton or America’s Declaration of Independence. If George had been the brutal despot that Americans said he was, he would have stopped their drive for independence with extreme, scorched-earth measures. But he was restrained by his “civilized, good-natured” temperament.

Who knows if King George died with regret? Would his reign have been more successful if he’d been harsher with his subjects?

Not necessarily. In the Bible we read of King Jehoram, who solidified his throne by putting “all his brothers to the sword along with some of the officials of Israel” (2 Chronicles 21:4). Jehoram “did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 6). His ruthless reign alienated his people, who neither wept for his gruesome death nor made a “funeral fire in his honor” (v. 19).

Historians may debate whether George was too soft; Jehoram was surely too harsh. A better way is that of King Jesus, who is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Jesus’ expectations are firm (He demands truth), yet He embraces those who fail (He extends grace). Jesus calls us who believe in Him to follow His lead. Then, through the leading of His Holy Spirit, He empowers us to do so.

God Calls Your Name

Natalia went to a different nation with the promise of receiving an education. But soon the father in her new home began physically and sexually abusing her. He forced her to care for his home and children without pay. He refused to let her go outside or use the phone. She had become his slave. 

Hagar was Abram and Sarai’s Egyptian slave. Neither one used her name. They called her “my slave” or “your slave” (Genesis 16:2, 5–6). They merely wanted to use her so they could have an heir.

How different is God! The angel of the Lord makes His first appearance in Scripture when He speaks to a pregnant Hagar in the desert. The angel is either God’s messenger or God Himself. Hagar believes He is God, for she says, “I have now seen the One who sees me” (v. 13). If the angel is God, He could possibly be the Son—the One who reveals God to us—making an early, preincarnate appearance. He says her name, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” (v. 8). 

God saw Natalia and brought caring people into her life who rescued her. She’s now studying to become a nurse. God saw Hagar and called her by name. And God sees you. You may be overlooked or worse, abused. Jesus calls you by name. Run to Him.