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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

How They’ll Know

“The Gathering” in northern Thailand is an interdenominational, international church. On a recent Sunday, Christians from Korea, Ghana, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, America, the Philippines, and other countries came together in a humble, thread-worn hotel conference room. They sang “In Christ Alone” and “I Am a Child of God,” lyrics that were especially poignant in this setting.

No one brings people together like Jesus does. He’s been doing it from the start. In the first century, Antioch contained eighteen different ethnic groups, each living in its own part of the city. When believers first came to Antioch, they spread the word about Jesus “only among Jews” (Acts 11:19). That wasn’t God’s plan for the church, however. Others soon came who “began to speak to Greeks [Gentiles] also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus,” and “a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (vv. 20–21). People in the city noticed that Jesus was healing centuries of animosity between Jews and Greeks, and they declared this multi-ethnic church should be called “Christians,” or “little Christs” (v. 26).

It can be challenging for us to reach across ethnic, social, and economic boundaries to embrace those different from us. But this difficulty is our opportunity. If it wasn’t hard, we wouldn’t need Jesus to do it. And few would notice we’re following Him.

Stay Together

Dewberry Baptist Church split in the 1800s over a chicken leg. Various versions of the story exist, but the account told by a current member was that two men fought over the last drumstick at a church potluck. One man said God wanted him to have it. The other replied God didn’t care, and he really wanted it. The men became so furious that one moved a couple kilometers down the road and started Dewberry Baptist Church #2. Thankfully the churches have settled their differences, and everyone concedes the reason for their split was ridiculous.

Jesus agrees. The night before His death Jesus prayed that His followers would “be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” May they “be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me” (John 17:21–23).

Paul agrees. He urges us to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3–4), and these cannot be divided.

We who weep for Christ’s body broken for our sin must not tear apart His body with our anger, gossip, and cliques. Better to let ourselves be wronged than be guilty of the scandal of church division. Give the other guy the chicken leg—and some pie too!

A True Disciple of Jesus

When Christian Mustad showed his Van Gogh landscape to art collector Auguste Pellerin, Pellerin took one look and said it wasn’t authentic. Mustad hid the painting in his attic, where it remained for fifty years. Mustad died, and the painting was evaluated off and on over the next four decades. Each time it was determined to be a fake. Until 2012, when an expert used a computer to count the thread separations in the painting’s canvas. He discovered it had been cut from the same canvas as another work of Van Gogh. Mustad had owned a real Van Gogh all along.

Do you feel like a fake? Do you fear that if people examined you they’d see how little you pray, give, and serve? Are you tempted to hide in the attic, away from prying eyes?

Look deeper, beneath the colors and contours of your life. If you have turned from your own ways and put your faith in Jesus, then you and He belong to the same canvas. To use Jesus’ picture, “I am the vine; you are the branches” (v. 5). Jesus and you form a seamless whole.

Resting in Jesus makes you a true disciple of Him. It’s also the only way to improve your picture. He said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5).

 

Wise Christians

The coronavirus pandemic canceled schools around the world. In China, teachers responded with DingTalk, a digital app that enabled class to be held online. Then their students figured out that if DingTalk’s rating fell too low, it might be removed from the App Store. Overnight thousands of one-star reviews dropped DingTalk’s score.

Jesus wouldn’t be impressed with the students shirking their responsibilities, but He might admire their ingenuity. He told an unusual story about a fired manager who on his final day slashed the bills of his master’s debtors. Jesus didn’t praise the manager’s dishonesty. Rather He commended his cleverness and wished His followers would be equally shrewd. “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9).

When it comes to money, most people look at how much they might lose. Wise people look for what they can use. Jesus said giving to others “gain(s) friends,” which provides safety and influence. Who is the leader in any group? The one who pays. Giving also gains “eternal dwellings,” for our willingness to part with our cash shows our trust is in Jesus.

Maybe we don’t have money. We do have time, skills, or a listening ear. Let’s cleverly plot ways to serve others for Jesus. What we lose is less than what we’ll win.

What’s Your Name?

Someone said we go through life with three names: the name our parents gave us, the name others give us (reputation), and the name we give ourselves (character). The name others give us matters, as “a good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1). But reputation can be wrong. Character matters more.

There’s yet another name that matters most. Jesus told the Christians in Pergamum that though their reputation had suffered some well-deserved hits, He had a new name reserved in heaven for those who fight back and conquer temptation. “To the one who is victorious, I will give . . . a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it” (v. 17).

We aren’t sure why Jesus promised a white stone. Is it an award for winning? A token for admission to the Messianic banquet? Perhaps it’s similar to what jurors once used to vote for acquittal. We simply don’t know. Whatever it is, God promises our new name will wipe away our shame (see Isaiah 62:1–5).

Our reputation may be tattered and our character may be seemingly beyond repair. But neither name ultimately defines us. It’s not what others call you, nor even what you call yourself that matters. You are who Jesus says you are. Live into your new name.

Unbreakable in Jesus

Louis Zamperini survived, somehow. His military plane crashed at sea during the war, killing eight of eleven men onboard. “Louie” and two others clambered into life rafts. They drifted for two months, fending off sharks, riding out storms, ducking bullets from an enemy plane, and catching and eating raw fish and birds. They finally drifted onto an island and were immediately captured. For two years Louie was beaten, tortured, and worked mercilessly as a prisoner of war. His remarkable story is told in the book, Unbroken.

Jeremiah is one of the Bible’s unbreakable characters. He endured enemy plots (11:18), was whipped and put in stocks (20:2), flogged and bound in a dungeon (37:15–16), and lowered by ropes into the deep mire of a cistern (38:6). He survived because God had promised to stay with him and rescue him (1:8). God makes a similar promise to us. “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). God didn’t promise to save Jeremiah or us from trouble, but He has promised to carry us through trouble. 

Louie recognized God’s protection, and after the war he gave his life to Christ. He forgave his captors, and led some to Jesus. Louie realized that while we can’t avoid all problems, we need not suffer them alone. When we face them with Jesus, we become unbreakable.

What's your name?

Someone said we go through life with three names: the name our parents gave us, the name others give us (our reputation) and the name we give ourselves (our character). The name others give us matters, as “a good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold” (PROVERBS 22:1). But while reputation…

Loving Your Enemy

I ducked into a room before she saw me. I was ashamed of hiding, but I didn’t want to deal with her right then—or ever. I longed to tell her off, to put her in her place. Though I was annoyed by her behavior, it’s likely I had irritated her even more!

The Jews and Samaritans also shared a mutually irritating relationship.  Being a people of mixed origin and worshiping their own gods, the Samaritans—in the eyes of the Jews—had spoiled the Jewish bloodline and faith, erecting a rival religion on Mount Gerazim (John 4:20). In fact, the Jews so despised Samaritans they walked the long way around rather than take the direct route through their country.

Jesus revealed a better way. He brought salvation for all people, including Samaritans. So He ventured into the heart of Samaria to bring living water to a sinful woman and her town (John 4:4-42). His last words to His disciples were to follow His example. They must share His good news with everyone, beginning in Jerusalem and dispersing through Samaria until they reached “the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Samaria was more than the next geographical sequence. It was the most painful part of the mission. The disciples must overcome lifetimes of prejudice to love people they didn’t like.

Does Jesus matter more than our grievances? There’s only one way to be sure. Love your “Samaritan.”

Jesus Restores Us

Although Sam had done nothing wrong, he lost his job on the assembly line. Carelessness in another division led to problems in cars they built. After several crashes made the news, leery customers stopped buying their brand. The company had to downsize, leaving Sam out of work. He’s collateral damage, and it isn’t fair. It never is.

History’s first collateral damage occurred immediately after the first sin. Adam and Eve were ashamed of their nakedness, so God graciously clothed them with “garments of skin” (v. 21). It’s painful to imagine, but one or more animals that had always felt safe with God were now slaughtered and skinned.

There was more to come. God told Israel, “Every day you are to provide a year-old lamb without defect for a burnt offering to the Lord; morning by morning you shall provide it” (Ezekiel 46:13). Every. Single. Day. How many thousands of animals have been sacrificed because of human sin?

Their death was necessary to cover our sin until Jesus, the Lamb of God, came to remove it (John 1:29). Call this “collateral repair.” As Adam’s sin kills us, so the Last Adam’s [Christ’s] obedience restores all who believe in Him (Romans 5:17–19). Collateral repair isn’t fair—it cost Jesus’ life—but it’s free. Reach out to Jesus in belief and receive the salvation He offers, and His righteous life will count for you.