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Tim Gustafson

Tim Gustafson

Tim Gustafson writes for Our Daily Bread and Our Daily Journey and serves as an editor for Discovery Series. As the adopted son of missionaries to Ghana, Tim has an unusual perspective on life in the West. He and his wife, Leisa, are the parents of one daughter and seven sons. Perhaps not surprisingly, his life verses say: “Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy” (Ps. 68:5-6 NLT).

Articles by Tim Gustafson

A Hundred Years from Now

“I just want people to remember me a hundred years from now,” said screenwriter Rod Serling in 1975. Creator of the TV series The Twilight Zone, Serling wanted people to say of him, “He was a writer.” Most of us can identify with Serling’s desire to leave a legacy—something to give our lives a sense of meaning and permanence.

The story of Job shows us a man struggling with meaning amid life’s impermanence. In a moment, not just his possessions but those most precious to him, his children, were taken. Then his friends accused him of deserving this fate. Job cried out: “Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll, that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock forever!” (19:23–24).

Job’s words have been “engraved in rock forever.” We have them in the Bible. Yet Job needed even more meaning in his life than the legacy he’d leave behind. He discovered it in the character of God. “I know that my redeemer lives,” Job declared, “and that in the end he will stand on the earth” (19:25). This knowledge gave him the right longing. “I myself will see him,” Job said. “How my heart yearns within me!” (v. 27).

In the end, Job didn’t find what he expected. He found much more. He found the Source of all meaning and permanence (42:1–6).

 

The Flip Side of Love

The Roman inns during the time of Christ had a reputation so bad that rabbis wouldn’t even permit cattle to be left at them. Faced with such bad conditions, traveling Christians usually sought out other believers for hospitality.

Among those early travelers were false teachers who denied that Jesus was the Messiah. This is why the letter of 2 John tells its readers there is a time to refuse to extend hospitality. John had said in a previous letter that these false teachers were “antichrist—denying the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22). In 2 John he elaborated on this, telling his readers that whoever believes Jesus is the Messiah “has both the Father and the Son.”

Then he warned, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them” (vv. 9–10). To extend hospitality to someone preaching a false gospel would actually help keep people separated from God.

            John’s second letter shows us a “flip side” of God’s love. We serve a God who welcomes everyone with open arms. But genuine love won’t enable those who deceitfully harm themselves and others. God wraps His arms around those who come to Him in repentance, but He never embraces a lie.

Lava in Paradise

All is quiet, save for slowly stretching tentacles of hissing lava nipping at the edges of the tropical foliage. Residents, fearful for their homes, stand grim-faced yet amazed. Most days they call this “paradise.” On this day, however, the fiery fissures in Hawaii’s Puna district reminded everyone that God forged these islands via untamable volcanic power.

The ancient Israelites encountered an untamable power too. When King David recaptured the ark of the covenant (2 Samuel 6:1–4), a celebration broke out (v. 5)—until a man died suddenly when he grabbed hold of the ark to steady it (vv. 6–7).

This may tempt us to think of God as being as capricious as a volcano, just as likely to create as He is to destroy. However, it helps to remember that God had given Israel specific instructions for how to handle the things set apart for worshiping Him (see Numbers 4). Israel had the privilege of drawing near to God, but His presence was too overwhelming for them to approach Him carelessly.

Hebrews 12 recalls a mountain “burning with fire,” where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. That mountain terrified everyone (vv. 18–21). But the writer contrasts that scene with this: “You have come to . . . Jesus the mediator of a new covenant” (vv. 22–24). Jesus—God’s very Son—made the way for us to draw near to His untamable yet loving Father.

Just a Touch

It was just a touch, but it made all the difference to Colin. As his small team was preparing to do charitable work in a region known for hostility to Christians, his stress level began to rise dangerously. When he shared his worries with a teammate, his friend stopped, placed his hand on his shoulder, and shared a few encouraging words with him. Colin now looks back on that brief touch as a turning point, a powerful reminder of the simple truth that God was with him.

John, the close friend and disciple of Jesus, had been banished to the desolate island of Patmos for preaching the gospel, when he heard “a loud voice like a trumpet” (Revelation 1:10). That startling event was followed by a vision of the Lord Himself, and John “fell at his feet as though dead.” But in that frightening moment, he received comfort and courage. John wrote, “He placed his right hand on me and said, ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last’” (v. 17).

God takes us out of our comfort zone to show us new things, to stretch us, to help us grow. But He also brings the courage and comfort to go through every situation. He won’t leave us alone in our trials. He has everything under control. He has us in His hands.

How is God taking you out of your comfort zone? What friends has He given you for support and comfort?

God’s Heart for Hypocrites

“I’d be very disappointed if one of our team members did that,” said a cricket player, referring to a South African cricketer who’d cheated in a match in 2016. But only two years later, that same player was caught in a nearly identical scandal.

Few things rankle us more than hypocrisy. But in the story of Judah in Genesis 38, Judah’s hypocritical behavior nearly had deadly consequences. After two of his sons died soon after marrying Tamar, Judah had quietly abandoned his duty to provide for her needs (vv. 8–11). In desperation, Tamar disguised herself by wearing a prostitute’s veil, and Judah slept with her (vv. 15–16).

Yet when Judah learned that his widowed daughter-in-law was pregnant, his reaction was murderous. “Bring her out and have her burned to death!” he demanded (v. 24). But Tamar had proof that Judah was the father (v. 25).

Judah could have denied the truth. Instead he admitted his hypocrisy, and also accepted his responsibility to care for her, saying, “She is more righteous than I” (v. 26).

And God wove even this dark chapter of Judah and Tamar’s story into His story of our redemption. Tamar’s children (vv. 29–30) would become ancestors of Jesus (Matthew 1:2–3).

Why is Genesis 38 in the Bible? One reason is because it’s the story of our hypocritical human hearts—and of God’s heart of love, grace, and mercy.

 

Who Am I?

Dave enjoyed his job, but for a long time he had sensed a pull toward something else. Now he was about to fulfill his dream and step into mission work. But strangely, he began to have serious doubts.

“I don’t deserve this,” he told a friend. “The mission board doesn’t know the real me. I’m not good enough.”

Dave has some pretty good company. Mention the name of Moses and we think of leadership, strength, and the Ten Commandments. We tend to forget that Moses fled to the desert after murdering a man. We lose sight of his forty years as a fugitive. We overlook his anger problem and his intense reluctance to say yes to God.

When God showed up with marching orders (Exodus 3:1–10), Moses played the I’m-not-good-enough card. He even got into a lengthy argument with God, asking Him: “Who am I?” (v. 11). Then God told Moses who He was: “I am who I am” (v. 14). It’s impossible for us to explain that mysterious name because our indescribable God is describing His eternal presence to Moses.

A sense of our own weaknesses is healthy. But if we use them as an excuse to keep God from using us, we insult Him. What we’re really saying is that God is not good enough. 

The question isn’t Who am I? The question is Who is the I am

Whatever the Cost

The film Paul, Apostle of Christ takes an unflinching look at persecution in the early days of the church. Even the movie’s minor characters reveal how dangerous it was to follow Jesus. Consider these roles listed in the credits: Beaten Woman; Beaten Man; Christian Victims 1, 2, and 3.

Identifying with Christ often came at a high cost. And in much of the world, it’s still dangerous to follow Jesus. Many in the church today can relate to that kind of persecution. Some of us, however, may feel “persecuted” prematurely—outraged any time our faith is mocked or we suspect we were passed over for a promotion because of our beliefs.

Obviously, there’s a colossal difference between sacrificing social status and sacrificing our lives. Realistically, though, self-interest, financial stability, and social acceptance have always been intense human motivators. We see this in the actions of some of Jesus’s earliest converts. The apostle John reports that, mere days before Jesus’s crucifixion, although most Israelites were still rejecting Him (John 12:37), many “even among the leaders believed” (v. 42). However, “They would not openly acknowledge their faith . . . for they loved human praise more than praise from God” (vv. 42–43).

Today we still face societal pressures (and worse) to keep our faith in Christ hidden. Whatever the cost, let’s stand together as a people who seek God’s approval more than human praise.

Back in the Battle

As a child, she had hurled vicious words at her parents. Little did she know that those words would be her last interaction with her parents. Now, even after years of counseling, she can’t forgive herself. Guilt and regret paralyze her.

We all live with regrets—some of them quite terrible. But the Bible shows us a way through the guilt. Let’s look at one example.

There’s no sugarcoating what King David did. It was the time “when kings go off to war,” but “David remained in Jerusalem” (2 Samuel 11:1). Away from the battle, he stole another man’s wife and tried to hide the deed with murder (11:14–15). God arrested David’s downward plunge (12:1–13), but the king would live the rest of his life with the knowledge of his sins.

While David was rising from the ashes, his general Joab was winning the battle David should have been leading (12:26). Joab challenged David, “Now muster the rest of the troops and besiege the city and capture it” (v. 28). David finally got back to his God-appointed place as the leader of his nation and his army (v. 29).

When we permit our past to crush us, in effect we’re telling God His grace isn’t enough. Regardless of what we’ve done, our Father extends His complete forgiveness to us. We can find, as David did, grace enough to get back in the battle.

Rescuing Villains

The comic book hero is as popular as ever. In 2017 alone, six superhero movies accounted for more than $4 billion (US) in box office sales. But why are people so drawn to big action flicks?

Maybe it’s because, in part, such stories resemble God’s Big Story. There’s a hero, a villain, a people in need of rescue, and plenty of riveting action.

In this story, the biggest villain is Satan, the enemy of our souls. But there are lots of “little” villains as well. In the book of Daniel, for example, one is Nebuchadnezzar, the tyrannical king of much of the known world, who decided to kill anyone who didn’t worship his colossal statue (Daniel 3:1–6). When three courageous Jewish officials refused (vv. 12–18), God dramatically rescued them from a blazing furnace (vv. 24–27).

But in a surprising twist, we see this villain’s heart begin to change. In response to this spectacular event, Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego” (v. 28).

But then he threatened to kill anyone who defied God (v. 29), not yet understanding that God didn’t need his help. Nebuchadnezzar would learn more about God (and himself) in chapter 4—but that’s another story.

What we see in Nebuchadnezzar is not just a villain, but someone on a spiritual journey. In God’s story of redemption, our Hero, Jesus, reaches out to everyone needing rescue—including the villains among us.

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