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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

It’s Empty Now

My brothers and our families spent the day moving our parents’ belongings from our childhood home. Late in the afternoon we went back for one last pickup and, knowing this would be our final time in our family home, posed for a picture on the back porch. I was fighting tears when my mom turned to me and said, “It’s all empty now.” That pushed me over the edge. The house that holds fifty-four years of memories is empty now. I try not to think of it.

The ache in my heart resonates with Jeremiah’s first words of Lamentations: “How deserted lies the city, once so full of people!” (1:1). An important difference is that Jerusalem was empty “because of her many sins” (v. 5). God exiled His people into Babylon because they rebelled against Him and refused to repent (v. 18). My parents weren’t moving because of sin, at least not directly. But ever since Adam’s sin in the garden of Eden, each person’s health has declined over their lifetime. As we age, it’s not unusual for us to downsize into homes that are easier to maintain. 

 I’m thankful for the memories that made our modest home special. Pain is the price of love. I know the next goodbye won’t be to my parents’ home but to my parents themselves. And I cry. I cry out to Jesus to come, put an end to goodbyes, and restore all things. My hope is in Him.

Jesus Is the Answer

The tale is told that after yet another stop on Albert Einstein’s lecture tour, his chauffeur mentioned that he’d heard enough of the speech that he could give it. Einstein suggested they switch places at the next college, as no one there had seen his picture. The chauffer agreed and delivered a fine lecture. Then came the question-and-answer period. To one aggressive inquirer, he replied, “I can see you’re a brilliant professor, but I’m surprised you would ask a question so simple that even my chauffeur could answer it.” His “chauffeur” did—Albert Einstein himself. So ends the fun but fictional story.

Daniel’s three friends were truly on the hot seat. King Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw them into a blazing furnace if they didn’t worship his idol. He asked, “What god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” (v. 15). The friends still refused to bow, so the king heated the furnace seven times hotter and had them tossed in.

They didn’t go alone. An “angel” (v. 28), perhaps Jesus Himself, joined them in the fire, keeping them from harm and answering the king’s question (vv. 24–25). Nebuchadnezzar conceded that “no other god can save in this way,” and he praised the “God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego” (vv. 28–29).

At times, we may be in over our heads and unable to solve this problem or answer that question. But Jesus stands with those who serve Him. He’ll carry us.

Let It Go

Augustine’s autobiographical Confessions describes his long and winding journey to Jesus. On one occasion he was riding to the palace to give a flattering speech for the emperor. He was fretting over his deceptive applause lines when he noticed a drunken beggar “joking and laughing.” He realized the drunk already had whatever fleeting happiness his shifty career might bring, and with much less effort. So Augustine stopped striving for worldly success.

But he was still enslaved by lust. He knew he couldn’t turn to Jesus without turning from sin, and he still struggled with sexual immorality. So he prayed, “Grant me chastity . . . but not yet.”

Augustine stumbled along, torn between salvation and sin, until finally he had enough. Inspired by others who had turned to Jesus, he opened a Bible to Romans 13:13–14. “Let us behave decently, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality . . . . Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”

That did it. God’s Word broke the chains of lust and brought him “into the kingdom of the Son…in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13–14). Augustine became a bishop who remained tempted by fame and lust, but he now knew whom to see when he sinned. He turned to Jesus. Have you?

We’re Not Alone

In Fredric Brown's short thriller “Knock”, he wrote, “The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door.” Yikes! Who could that be, and what do they want? What mysterious being has come for him? The man is not alone.

Neither are we.

The church in Laodicea heard a knock on their door (v. 20). What Supernatural Being had come for them? His name was Jesus, “the First and the Last . . . the Living One.” His eyes blazed like fire, and His face “like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” When His best friend John caught a glimpse of His glory, he “fell at his feet as though dead” (1:14–18). Faith in Christ begins with the fear of God.

We’re not alone, and this is also comforting. Jesus “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3). Yet Christ uses His strength not to slay us but to love us. Hear His invitation, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20). Our faith begins with fear—who is at the door?—and it ends in a welcome and strong embrace. Jesus promises to always stay with us, even if we’re the last person on earth. Thank God, we’re not alone.

What’s Your Name?

Jen remarried after her first husband died. The children of her new husband never accepted her, and now that he’s passed away too, they hate her for remaining in their childhood home. Her husband left a modest sum to provide for her; his kids say she’s stealing their inheritance. Jen is understandably discouraged, and she’s grown bitter.

Naomi’s husband moved the family to Moab, where he and their two sons died. Years later Naomi returned to Bethlehem empty-handed, except for her daughter-in-law Ruth. The town was stirred and asked, “Can this be Naomi?” (Ruth 1:19). She said they shouldn’t use that name, which means “My pleasant one.” They should call her “Mara,” which means “bitter,” because “I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty” (vv. 20–21).  

Is there a chance your name is Bitter? You’ve been disappointed by friends, family, or declining health. You deserved better. You didn’t get it. Now you’re bitter.

Naomi came back to Bethlehem bitter, but she came back. You can come home too. Come to Jesus, the descendant of Ruth, born in Bethlehem. Rest in His love.

In time, God replaced Naomi’s bitterness with the joyful fulfillment of His perfect plan (4:13–22). He can replace your bitterness too. Come home to Him.

Choose Joy

Keith was feeling down as he trudged through the produce aisle. His hands trembled from the first signs of Parkinson’s disease. How long before his quality of life began to slide? What would this mean for his wife and children? Keith’s gloom was shattered by laughter. Over by the potatoes, a man pushed a giggling boy in a wheelchair. The man leaned over and whispered to his son, who couldn’t stop grinning. He was noticeably worse off than Keith, yet he and his dad were finding joy where they could.

Writing from prison or under house arrest as he awaited the outcome of his trial, the apostle Paul seemingly had no right to be joyful (Philippians 1:12–13). The emperor was Nero, a wicked man who would soon paint Christians with tar and set them on fire, so Paul had reason to be concerned. He also knew there were preachers who were taking advantage of his absence to gain glory for themselves. They thought they could “stir up trouble” for the apostle while he was imprisoned (v. 17).

Yet Paul chose to rejoice (vv. 18–21), and he told the Philippians to follow his example. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4). Our situation might seem bleak, yet Jesus is with us now, and He’s guaranteed our glorious future. The Lord who walked out of His tomb will return to raise His followers to live with Him. As we begin this new year, may we rejoice!

In His Hands

William Shatner played Captain Kirk on the television series Star Trek, but he was unprepared for a real trip into space. He called his eleven-minute sub-orbital flight “the most profound experience I can imagine.” He stepped out of his rocket and marveled, “To see the blue color go right by you and now you're staring into blackness, that's the thing.” You “look down and there's the blue down there and the black up there.” He added, "The beauty of that color and it's so thin and you're through it in an instant."

Our planet is a blue dot surrounded by utter darkness. It’s unsettling. Shatner said that flying from blue sky into blackness was like flying into death. “In an instant, you go, ‘Woah, that’s death!’ That’s what I saw. It was so moving to me. This experience, it’s something unbelievable.”

Shatner’s shattering flight puts life in perspective. We’re small objects in the universe, yet we’re loved by the One who created light and separated it from the darkness (Genesis 1:3–4). Our Father knows where the darkness resides, and the path to its dwelling (Job 38:19–20). He “laid the earth’s foundation . . . . while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy” (38:4–7).

Let’s trust our small lives to the God who holds the whole universe in His hands.

Hope from Gehenna

In 1979, archaeologist Gabriel Barkay unearthed two small silver scrolls. It took years to delicately unroll the metal scrolls, and each was found to contain a Hebrew etching of the blessing from Numbers 6:24–26, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” Scholars date the scrolls to the seventh century BC. They’re the oldest known bits of Scripture in the world.

Equally interesting is where they were found. Barkay was digging in a cave in the Valley of Hinnom, where Jeremiah told Judah that God would slaughter them in this same valley for sacrificing their children (19:4–6). This valley was the site of such wickedness that Jesus used the word Gehenna” (a Greek transliteration of the “Valley of Hinnom”) as a picture of hell (Matthew 23:33).

On this spot, about the time Jeremiah was announcing God’s judgment on his nation, someone was etching His future blessing onto silver scrolls. It wouldn’t happen in their lifetime, but one day—on the other side of the Babylonian invasion—God would turn His face toward His people and give them peace.

The lesson for us is clear. Even if we deserve what we have coming, we can cling to God’s promise. His heart always yearns for His people.

When Weakness Is Strength

Drew had been imprisoned for two years because he served Jesus. He’d read stories of missionaries who felt constant joy throughout their incarceration, but he confessed “this was not my experience.” He told his wife that God had picked the wrong man to suffer for Him. She replied, “No. I think maybe He picked the right man. This was not an accident.”

 

Drew could likely relate to the prophet Jeremiah, who had faithfully served God by warning Judah that God would punish them for their sins. But God’s judgment hadn’t fallen yet, and Judah’s leaders beat Jeremiah and put him in stocks. Jeremiah blamed God: “You deceived me, Lord” (v. 7). The prophet believed God had failed to deliver. His word had only “brought me insult and reproach all day long” (v. 8). “Cursed be the day I was born!” Jeremiah said. “Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?” (vv. 14, 18).

Eventually Drew was released, but through his ordeal he began to understand that perhaps God chose him—much like He chose Jeremiah—because he was weak. If he and Jeremiah had been naturally strong, they might have received some of the praise for their success. But if they were naturally weak, all the glory for their perseverance would go to Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:26–31). His frailty made him the perfect person for Jesus to use.