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Tim Gustafson

Tim Gustafson

As a “third-culture kid” (parents from one culture who raised him in another), Tim Gustafson attended eight different schools in his first nine years of schooling, plus a “semester at sea” that comprised first grade. His adoptive parents were missionaries who traveled several times by ship. The penchant for traveling didn’t stop with adulthood, and it’s served him well as he continues his career as a writer and editor. A military veteran of three deployments, Tim and his wife, Leisa, have eight children—seven of whom are boys—and a granddaughter.

Articles by Tim Gustafson

All the Answers

Dale Earnhardt Jr. describes the awful moment he understood his father was gone. Motor racing legend Dale Earnhardt Sr. had just been killed in a horrific crash at the end of the Daytona 500—a race in which Dale Jr. had also participated. “There’s this noise coming outta me that I can’t re-create,” said the younger Earnhardt. “[It’s] this bellow of shock and sorrow—and fear.” And then the lonely truth: “I’m gonna have to do this by myself.”

“Having Dad was like having a cheat sheet,” Earnhardt Jr. explained. “Having Dad was like knowing all the answers.”

Jesus’ disciples had learned to look to Him for all the answers. Now, on the eve of His crucifixion, He assured them He wouldn’t leave them alone. “I will ask the Father,” Jesus said, “and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16–17).

Jesus extended that comfort to all who would believe in Him. “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching,” He said. “My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (v. 23).

Those who choose to follow Christ have within them the Spirit who teaches them “all things” and reminds them of everything Jesus taught (v. 26). We don’t have all the answers, but we have the Spirit of the One who does.

The Message of the Prophets

Before baseball’s 1906 World Series, sportswriter Hugh Fullerton made an astute prediction. He said the Chicago Cubs, who were expected to win, would lose the first and third games and win the second. Oh, and it would rain on the fourth. He was right on each point. Then, in 1919, his analytical skills told him certain players were losing World Series games intentionally. Fullerton suspected they’d been bribed by gamblers. Popular opinion ridiculed him. Again, he was right.

Fullerton was no prophet—just a wise man who studied the evidence. Jeremiah was a real prophet whose prophecies always came true. Wearing an ox yoke, Jeremiah told Judah to surrender to the Babylonians and live (Jeremiah 27:2, 12). The false prophet Hananiah contradicted him and broke the yoke (28:2–4, 10). Jeremiah told him, “Listen, Hananiah! The LORD has not sent you,” and added, “This very year you are going to die” (vv. 15–16). Two months later, Hananiah was dead (v. 17).

The New Testament tells us, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets . . . , but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1–2). Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and through the Scriptures and guidance of the Holy Spirit, God’s truth still instructs us today.

Losing Everything

The timing couldn’t have been worse. After making a small fortune engineering bridges, monuments, and large buildings, Cesar had aspirations of starting a new endeavor. So he sold his first business and banked the money, planning to reinvest it soon. During that brief window, his government seized all assets held in private bank accounts. In an instant, Cesar’s lifesavings evaporated.

Choosing not to view the injustice as a cause to complain, Cesar asked God to show him the way forward. And then—he simply started over.

In one awful moment, Job lost far more than merely his possessions. He lost most of his servants and all his children (Job 1:13–22). Then he lost his health (2:7–8). Job’s response remains a timeless example for us. He prayed, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (1:21). The chapter concludes, “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (v. 22).

Like Job, Cesar chose to trust God. In just a few years he had built a new business more successful than the first. His story resembles the conclusion of Job’s (see Job 42). But even if Cesar had never recovered economically, he knew his real treasure wasn’t on this earth anyway (Matthew 6:19–20). He would still be trusting God.


In his poem “The Witnesses,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) described a sunken slave ship. As he wrote of “skeletons in chains,” Longfellow mourned slavery’s countless nameless victims. The concluding stanza reads, “These are the woes of Slaves,/ They glare from the abyss;/ They cry from unknown graves,/ We are the Witnesses!”

But who do these witnesses speak to? Isn’t such silent testimony futile?

There is a Witness who sees it all. When Cain murdered Abel, he pretended nothing had happened. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” he said dismissively to God. But God said, “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand” (Genesis 4:10–11).

Cain’s name lives on as a warning. “Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother,” John the disciple cautioned (1 John 3:12). Abel’s name lives on too, but in a dramatically different way. “By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did,” said the writer of Hebrews. “By faith Abel still speaks” (11:4).

Abel still speaks! So do the bones of those long-forgotten slaves. We do well to remember all such victims, and to oppose oppression wherever we see it. God sees it all. His justice will triumph.

The Long Game

When Tun’s country suffered a coup, the military began terrorizing believers in Jesus and killing their farm animals. Having lost their livelihood, Tun’s family scattered to various countries. For nine years, Tun existed in a refugee camp far from his family. He knew God was with him, but during the separation, two family members died. Tun grew despondent.

Long ago, another people group faced brutal oppression. So God appointed Moses to lead those people—the Israelites—out of Egypt. Moses reluctantly agreed. But when he approached Pharaoh, the Egyptian ruler only intensified the oppression (Exodus 5:6–9). “I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go,” he said (v. 2). The people complained to Moses (vv. 20–21), who complained to God (vv. 22–23).

In the end, God freed the Israelites in spectacular fashion. The people got the freedom they wanted—but in God’s way and timing. He plays a long game, teaching us about His character and preparing us for something greater.

Tun made good use of his years in a refugee camp, earning a master’s degree from a New Delhi seminary. Now he’s a pastor to his own people—refugees like him who have found a new home. The journey hasn’t been easy. “My story as a refugee forms the crucible for leading as a servant,” he says. In his testimony, Tun cites Moses’ song in Exodus 15:2, “The Lord is my strength and my defense.” And today, He’s ours as well.

Doing Something Right

The letter from “Jason,” an inmate, surprised my wife and me. We “foster” puppies to become service dogs assisting people with disabilities. One such puppy had graduated to the next training phase, which was run by prisoners who have been taught how to train the dogs. Jason’s letter to us said, “Snickers is the seventeenth dog I’ve trained, and she is the best one. When I see her looking up at me, I feel like I’m finally doing something right.”

Jason isn’t the only one with regrets. We all have them. Manasseh, king of Judah, had plenty. Second Chronicles 33 outlines some of his atrocities: building sexually explicit altars to pagan gods (v. 3), practicing witchcraft, and sacrificing his own children (v. 6). He led the entire nation down this sordid path (v. 9).

“The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention,” reads the account (v. 10). Eventually, God got his attention. The Babylonians invaded, “put a hook in his nose, . . . and took him to Babylon” (v. 11). Next, Manasseh finally did something right. “He sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly” (v. 12). God heard him and restored him as king. Manasseh replaced the pagan practices with worship of the one true God (vv. 15–16).

Do your regrets threaten to consume you? It’s not too late. God hears our humble prayer of repentance.

Easy Money

In the late 1700s, a young man discovered a mysterious depression on Nova Scotia’s Oak Island. Guessing that pirates—perhaps even Captain Kidd himself—had buried treasure there, he and a couple of companions started digging. They never found any treasure, but the rumor took on a life of its own. Over the centuries, others continued digging at the site—expending a great amount of time and expense. The hole is now more than 100 feet (30 meters) deep.

Such obsessions betray the emptiness in the human heart. A story in the Bible shows how one man’s behavior revealed just such a void in his heart. Gehazi had long been a reliable servant of the great prophet Elisha. But when Elisha declined the lavish gifts of a military commander whom God had healed of leprosy, Gehazi concocted a story to get some of the loot (2 Kings 5:22). When Gehazi returned home, he lied to the prophet (v. 25). But Elisha knew. He asked him, “Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you?” (v. 26). In the end, Gehazi got what he wanted, but lost what was important (v. 27).

Jesus taught us not to pursue this world’s treasures and to instead “store up . . . treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20).

Beware of any shortcuts to your heart’s desires. Following Jesus is the way to fill the emptiness with something real.

Stolen Gods

A carved wooden figure—a household god—had been stolen from a woman named Ekuwa, so she reported it to the authorities. Believing they had found the idol, law enforcement officials invited her to identify it. “Is this your god?” they asked. She said sadly, “No, my god is much larger and more beautiful than that.”
People have long tried to give shape to their concept of deity, hoping for a handmade god to protect them. Perhaps that’s why Jacob’s wife Rachel “stole her father’s household gods” as they fled from Laban (Genesis 31:19). But God had His hand on Jacob, despite the idols hidden in his camp (v. 34).
Later on that same journey, Jacob wrestled all night with “a man” (32:24). He must have understood this opponent was no mere human, because at daybreak Jacob insisted, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (v. 26). The man renamed him Israel (“God fights”) and then blessed him (vv. 28–29). Jacob called the spot “Peniel” (face of God), “because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared” (v. 30).
This God—the one true God—is infinitely larger and more beautiful than anything Ekuwa could have ever imagined. He can’t be carved, stolen, or hidden. Yet, as Jacob learned that night, we can approach Him! Jesus taught His disciples to call this God “our Father in heaven.”

String Too Short to Use

Aunt Margaret’s frugality was legendary. After she passed away, her nieces began the nostalgically bittersweet task of sorting her belongings. In a drawer, neatly arrayed inside a small plastic bag, they discovered an assortment of small pieces of string. The label read: “String too short to use.”  

What would motivate someone to keep and categorize something they knew to be of no use? Perhaps this person once knew extreme deprivation.

When the Israelites fled slavery in Egypt, they left behind a life of hardship. But they soon forgot God’s miraculous hand in their exodus and started complaining about the lack of food.

God wanted them to trust Him. He provided manna for their desert diet, telling Moses, “The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day” (Exodus 16:4). God also instructed them to gather twice as much on the sixth day, because on the Sabbath no manna would fall (v. 5). Some of the Israelites listened. Some didn’t, with predictable results (vv. 27–28).

In times of plenty and times of desperation, it’s tempting to try to cling, to hoard, in a desperate attempt at control. There’s no need to take everything into our own frantic hands. No need to “save scraps of string”—or to hoard anything at all. Our faith is in God, who has promised, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).