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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

Together Forever

A Chinese translator told a visiting theologian that her Buddhist parents admired the teachings of Jesus, but they were offended by the idea that someone had to believe in Him to be saved. They worried that their Christian daughter now believed her ancestors were in hell. The translator said, “Revering my ancestors means much to me, and I want to assure my parents that I do not want to dishonor my family heritage. So please tell me what I, as a Christian, can say to my parents about this.”

Bubbles

Sarah sometimes wonders if she only believes in Jesus because she’s surrounded by family and friends who also do. She asked, “Am I a Christian because it’s true or because I live in a Christian bubble?”

Uber Conversations

Jasper Fu drives two hours a day for Uber, an app-based taxi service. He doesn’t do it for the money, since he already has a fulltime job. He says he does it because it’s a good way to “talk to people.” Chinese culture encourages quiet restraint, so it can seem inappropriate to walk up to a stranger and start a conversation. It’s different when you’re picking them up in your car. Jasper says, “Under no other circumstance can I find a stranger to talk with me for like 10 to 20 minutes.”

Envy and Humility

The movie Amadeus depicts Antonio Salieri as a composer who couldn’t enjoy his gift because he happened to live at the same time as the great Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Salieri worked diligently to create a decent musical work, only to watch the impish Mozart sit down at the piano and play soaring music, seemingly off the top of his head. Salieri begged God for Mozart’s gift, but he believed that God gave him just enough talent to recognize the many ways he didn’t measure up.

Everyone Has a Story

The speaker at our conference asked us to gather in groups of three with people we had never met. He told us to each take one minute to tell the others about ourselves and share the story of one person we wanted God to bless. One man said he wanted God to bless his wife who was battling cancer while she cared for her invalid mother. Another praised God for healing his wife’s cancer but said he was concerned for his adult son who was far from God.

Fool Me?

French philosopher Blaise Pascal wondered why kings wasted hours being entertained by court jesters. Why spend time in the presence of a fool? Pascal concluded that the man who has everything still has one thing to worry about—that he might lose everything. So he calls for the fool, who distracts him from that thought.

Songs in the Night

Keith Getty, cowriter of the classic modern hymn “In Christ Alone,” says that believers in Jesus “want to sing deep things about God.” He would like to see local churches using a rich repertoire of both traditional and new songs—music that can truly carry us through life and its challenges. Getty encourages pastors to select forty to fifty songs they want their people to grow old singing, then make sure they sing them at least twice each year.

Distraction

Students of a large university have a funny way of distracting opposing basketball teams during free throw attempts. They place a “curtain of distraction” beneath the basket in plain view of players on the opposing team. Just prior to shot attempts, the students open the curtain to reveal something unusual like dancing unicorns, a purple-haired “grandma” waving a cane, or a lion wearing a tutu. Recently it was US Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, wearing his gold medals while pretending to swim.

How Much God Loves You

When my children were small, I often read them the bedtime story Guess How Much I Love You. A baby rabbit stretched his arms high and told his daddy he loved him that much. His father had longer arms, so he raised them up and said he loved his son even more. The baby hopped and said he loved his dad that high. The father could jump higher, and so he hopped to show his love was even greater. Finally, the baby rabbit said he loved his daddy all the way to the moon. The father thought for a moment and said, “I love you right up to the moon—and back.”

Rewards

When our children were young, my wife and I gave them money to buy Christmas presents for us. Why not simply buy the socks or slippers ourselves? Because it meant a great deal to our kids. They wanted to give as well as receive presents, even if it meant using our money.

A New Person

Aiko stopped sleeping with her boyfriend when she gave her life to Jesus. Eventually he broke up with her and later she fell in love with a man who was a devoted believer in Jesus. She was much happier, yet felt guilty because of her previous lifestyle. She cried out to her friend Midori, “I just wish I could have a fresh start. I want to be reborn!”

Talking While Doing

Our best conversations sometimes happen while we’re doing something else. It can be awkward to say, “Tell me about your deepest joys and fears.” But such important topics as these can arise naturally while we’re traveling together, building a shed, or even washing dishes. The task somehow helps us converse more freely. Perhaps we’re less stressed because we’re not focused solely on the conversation.

Why Pray?

Jesus knew His Father couldn’t grant His request, yet He prayed it anyway. He had to die on the cross to save us, yet He still pled with His Father to take away “this cup of suffering” (Luke 22:42). Why did Jesus pray when He knew the answer was No? He prayed because of the sheer terror that lay before Him (Luke 22:44). Jesus prayed because prayer isn’t primarily about getting what we want. It’s about our relationship with our heavenly Father.

What Is God?

A pastor resigned because he wanted to press the “very edges of religion and faith and God.” As science discovers unfathomable mysteries and as society challenges traditional beliefs, it can become difficult to think about God as we always have. The pastor confessed, “I don’t even know if we know what we mean by God anymore.”

You’re Needed

In 2015, Derrick Rose, an All-Star guard in the National Basketball Association (NBA), faced another surgery after he tore the medial meniscus in his right knee for the second time in 15 months. The meniscus is a relatively obscure part of the human body, yet this essential piece of cartilage not only threatened Rose’s career, but also hurt his team’s chances of a championship and dashed the hopes of the city where he plays. What a large impact from such a small thing!

Related Topics

> christian living

Running the Race

In 2005 Dean Karnazes ran 350 miles in eighty hours—setting the world record for distance running without sleep. Ten years later, Rob Young, nicknamed the “Marathon Man,” broke the record by covering nearly 374 miles in eighty-eight hours. Young, who had endured abuse by his father as a child, said he ran with two goals in mind: to test the limits of human endurance and to help the world become a better place for kids.

Is This Heaven?

In the fantasy-drama Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella heard a mysterious voice whispering from his cornfield: “If you build it, he will come.” In time, Ray realized the voice was calling him to build a baseball field among his rows of cornstalks. When he built the ball field, major-league baseball players from the past miraculously emerged from the remaining cornstalks to play ball.

Tongues Afire

Over the past month or so, my wife and I have had some hard conversations. Places of deep hurt have become visible again. As we’ve talked, amid much sadness, I’ve had to reckon with a lasting wound I left on her heart. Years ago, before we were married, Miska and I endured a significant conflict. In that turmoil, I spoke words to her that were foolish and immature, words that lodged into the most tender and vulnerable places of her heart. I didn’t speak in anger or malice, but rather with ignorance and stupidity. I’ve asked her forgiveness multiple times, and she has freely forgiven me. Still . . . the wound is there. My words can’t be taken back.

> daily devotional

Together Forever

A Chinese translator told a visiting theologian that her Buddhist parents admired the teachings of Jesus, but they were offended by the idea that someone had to believe in Him to be saved. They worried that their Christian daughter now believed her ancestors were in hell. The translator said, “Revering my ancestors means much to me, and I want to assure my parents that I do not want to dishonor my family heritage. So please tell me what I, as a Christian, can say to my parents about this.”

Reflections of Marriage

Our pastor read this verse during a sermon: “It’s better to stay unmarried, just as I am” (1 Corinthians 7:8). Quite happily wed himself, he followed the reading by saying, “Marriage complicates things.” Seconds later, a masculine voice emitted a long exaggerated “Aaaaamen.” The congregation broke into laughter.

Passing By

During a political election year, a tow truck driver was called to assist a woman who was stranded with a broken-down vehicle. But the truck driver, upon seeing a bumper sticker on the car for a candidate he disliked, informed the motorist that he wouldn’t help her and drove away. His actions remind me how we sometimes choose to ignore those who need our help.

> ethics

rotten fruit

There’s a “quick sale” area in my local supermarket where fruit is offered at a huge discount. If not sold quickly, the fully ripened edibles will become soft, flabby, and infected with fungus.

judgment of justice

An acquaintance of mine, who is highly intelligent and has a philosophical bent, also carries antipathy toward God and religion. He enjoys being provocative, recently quoting the second-century philosopher Epicurus who said: “There is no such thing as justice in the abstract; it is merely a compact between men.”

if My people

I was speaking with three friends about the lamentable condition of our country. They mentioned the continued practice of abortion, the rise of homosexual marriage, and the debt crisis. One friend cited 2 Chronicles 7:14, and said that our nation’s problems will only be solved when our country turns to God. I said that would be difficult to pull off, as our nation believes in the separation of church and state. We cannot compel Muslims, Buddhists, or atheists to worship Yahweh. Nor would we want to. Life goes badly—both for those inside and outside the church—whenever Christianity becomes the religion of the state.

> faith

Philip Flunked

In college, I had the, ahem, joy of taking a class about the history of the English language. The professor would ramble on and on about his life and all kinds of odd facts during his lectures. We listened intently, however, because his tests were famously difficult. He didn’t simply ask us to recall facts, he required us to think differently. The questions were designed to ensure that we could apply our knowledge in unique ways.

Big and Small

Some big interviews lay ahead as I continued my quest to join the UK’s Royal Navy as a chaplain. That included psychometric tests, practical leadership tasks, planning exercises, and the writing of essays. I needed to take several trains down to the interview location, plan my interview techniques, and practice answers.

Hearing Loss

According to the World Health Organization, more than a billion young people are at risk of hearing loss because of personal audio devices and damaging levels of sound at some entertainment venues, where noise levels can top 120 decibels for hours on end! Doctors warn that a steady onslaught of loud noise, particularly through earbuds, is damaging the hearing ability of a generation.

> health

Something More Powerful

When France’s ministry of health realized that 17.8 percent of French women smoked while pregnant, they came up with a plan. For a trial period of thirty-six months, seventeen French hospitals paid women up to 300 euros to stop smoking during their pregnancies. Of the 612 participants, 22.5 percent of the women gave up their cigarettes.

Real Rest

During the long, harsh Alaskan winter, Denali National Park rangers rely on teams of sled dogs to help them patrol the vast, snowy wilderness. Dogsled patrols can last up to 6 weeks, and the dogs are always raring to go.

sweet sleep

Recent research concluded that Americans are among the world’s worst when it comes to sleep deprivation. The published statistics reveal: The US (along with France and Taiwan) ranks among the top three most sleep-deprived nations in the world. Indians (54 percent), Americans (49 percent), and Singaporeans (43 percent) reported not getting enough rest due to being too worried or stressed out. Most sleep-deprived Americans (66 percent), however, can’t sleep because they’re anxious about finances and paying their bills.

> relationships

Reflections of Marriage

Our pastor read this verse during a sermon: “It’s better to stay unmarried, just as I am” (1 Corinthians 7:8). Quite happily wed himself, he followed the reading by saying, “Marriage complicates things.” Seconds later, a masculine voice emitted a long exaggerated “Aaaaamen.” The congregation broke into laughter.

Bubbles

Sarah sometimes wonders if she only believes in Jesus because she’s surrounded by family and friends who also do. She asked, “Am I a Christian because it’s true or because I live in a Christian bubble?”

Distance

Reasons? He has many. As he passes several churches during his drive to the park for his Sunday run, he enjoys his solitude. In fact, he reflects on how he can connect with God just as easily—if not more so—on his own. But deep layers of pain, a multitude of rehearsed excuses, and complicated explanations mask a simple reality: Church has not been a safe place for him.