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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

Space for Me

He was an aging military veteran, rough-edged and given to even rougher language. One day a friend cared enough about him to inquire about his spiritual beliefs. The man’s dismissive response came quickly: “God doesn’t have space for someone like me.”

Perhaps that was just part of his “tough-guy” act, but his words couldn’t be further from the truth! God creates space especially for the rough, the guilt-ridden, and the excluded to belong and thrive in His community. This was obvious from the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, when He made some surprising choices for His disciples. First, He chose several fishermen from Galilee—the “wrong side of the tracks” from the perspective of those in Jerusalem. He also selected a tax collector, Matthew, whose profession included extorting from his oppressed countrymen. Then, for good measure, Jesus invited the “other” Simon—“the Zealot” (Mark 3:18).

We don’t know much about this Simon (he isn’t Simon Peter), but we do know about the Zealots. They hated traitors like Matthew, who got rich by collaborating with the despised Romans. Yet with divine irony, Jesus chose Simon along with Matthew, brought them together, and blended them into His team.

Don’t write anyone off as too “bad” for Jesus. After all, He said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). He has plenty of space for the tough cases—people like you and me.

Zax Nature

In one of Dr. Seuss’s whimsical stories, he tells of a “North-Going Zax and a South-Going Zax” crossing the Prairie of Prax. Upon meeting nose to nose, neither Zax will step aside. The first Zax angrily vows to stay put—even if it makes “the whole world stand still.” (Unfazed, the world moves on and builds a highway around them.)

The tale offers an uncomfortably accurate picture of human nature. We possess a reflexive “need” to be right, and we’re prone to stubbornly cling to that instinct in rather destructive ways!

Happily for us, God lovingly chooses to soften stubborn human hearts. The apostle Paul knew this, so when two members of the Philippian church were squabbling, he loved them enough to call them out (Philippians 4:2). Then, having earlier instructed the believers to have “the same mindset” of self-giving love as Christ (2:5–8), Paul asked them to “help these women,” valued coworkers with him in sharing the gospel (4:3). It seems peacemaking and wise compromise call for team effort.

Of course there are times to take a firm stand, but a Christ-like approach will look a lot different than an unyielding Zax! So many things in life are not worth fighting over. We can bicker with each other over every trivial concern until we destroy ourselves (Galatians 5:15). Or we can swallow our pride, graciously receive wise counsel, and seek unity with our brothers and sisters.

Strange Comfort

The verse on the card Lisa received didn’t seem to match her situation: “Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17). I have cancer! she thought in confusion. I’ve just lost a baby! A verse about angel soldiers does not apply.

Then the “angels” began to show up. Cancer survivors gave her their time and a listening ear. Her husband got released early from an overseas military assignment. Friends prayed with her. But the moment she most felt God’s love was when her friend Patty walked in with two boxes of tissues. Placing them on the table, she started crying. Patty knew. She’d endured miscarriages too.

“That meant more than anything,” Lisa says. “The card made sense now. My ‘angel soldiers’ had been there all along.”

When an army besieged Israel, a host of literal angels protected Elisha. But Elisha’s servant couldn’t see them. “What shall we do?” he cried to the prophet (v. 15). Elisha simply prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see” (v. 17).

When we look to God, our crisis will show us what truly matters and that we’re not alone. We learn that God’s comforting presence never leaves us. He shows us His love in infinitely surprising ways.

Fire in the Desert

While riding in the Chihuahuan Desert in the late 1800s, Jim White spotted a strange cloud of smoke spiraling skyward. Suspecting a wildfire, the young cowboy rode toward the source, only to learn that the “smoke” was a vast swarm of bats spilling from a hole in the ground. White had come across New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns, an immense and spectacular system of caves.

As Moses was tending sheep in a Middle Eastern desert, he too saw an odd sight that grabbed his attention—a flaming bush that didn’t burn up (Exodus 3:2). When God Himself spoke from the bush, Moses realized he had come to something far grander than it had first appeared (v. 6). The Lord told Moses, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham” (v. 6). God was about to lead an enslaved people to freedom and show them their true identity as His children (v. 10).

More than 600 years earlier, God had made this promise to Abraham: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3). The flight of the Israelites from Egypt was but one step in that blessing—God’s plan to rescue His creation through the Messiah, Abraham’s descendant.

Today we can enjoy the benefits of that blessing, for God offers this rescue to everyone. Christ came to die for the sins of the whole world. By faith in Him, we too become children of the living God.

Running into Love

Nora was tiny, but “Bridget”—the belligerent, six-foot-tall woman glowering down at her—didn’t intimidate her. Bridget couldn’t even say why she had stopped at the crisis pregnancy center; she’d already made up her mind to “get rid of this . . . kid.” So Nora gently asked questions, and Bridget rudely deflected them with profanity-laced tirades. Soon Bridget got up to leave, defiantly declaring her intent to end her pregnancy.

Slipping her small frame between Bridget and the door, Nora asked, “Before you go, may I give you a hug, and may I pray for you?” No one had ever hugged her before—not with healthy intentions, anyway. Suddenly, unexpectedly, the tears came.

Nora beautifully reflects the heart of our God who loved His people Israel “with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). The people had stumbled into the hard consequences of their persistent violation of His guidelines. Yet God told them, “I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. I will build you up again” (vv. 3–4).

Bridget’s history is complex. (Many of us can relate.) Until she ran into real love that day, her belief had been that God and His followers would only condemn her. Nora showed her something different: the God who won’t ignore our sin because He loves us beyond imagination. He welcomes us with open arms. We don’t have to keep running.

A Glimmer on the Sea

“I lay on my bed full of stale liquor and despair,” wrote journalist Malcolm Muggeridge of a particularly dismal evening during his work as a World War II spy. “Alone in the universe, in eternity, with no glimmer of light.”

In such a condition, he did the only thing he thought sensible; he tried to drown himself. Driving to the nearby Madagascar coast, he began the long swim into the ocean until he grew exhausted. Looking back, he glimpsed the distant coastal lights. For no reason clear to him at the time, he started swimming back toward the lights. Despite his fatigue, he recalls “an overwhelming joy.”

Muggeridge didn't know exactly how, but he knew God had reached him in that dark moment, infusing him with a hope that could only be supernatural. The apostle Paul wrote often about such hope. In Ephesians he noted that, before knowing Christ, each of us is “dead in [our] transgressions and sins . . . . without hope and without God in the world” (2:1, 12). But “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead” (vv. 4–5).

This world tries to drag us into the depths, but there’s no reason to succumb to despair. As Muggeridge said about his swim in the sea, “It became clear to me that there was no darkness, only the possibility of losing sight of a light which shone eternally.”

 

How to Wait

Frustrated and disappointed with church, seventeen-year-old Trevor began a years-long quest for answers. But nothing he explored seemed to satisfy his longings or answer his questions.

His journey did draw him closer to his parents. Still, he had problems with Christianity. During one discussion, he exclaimed bitterly, “The Bible is full of empty promises.”

Another man faced disappointment and hardship that fueled his doubts. But as David fled from enemies who sought to kill him, his response was not to run from God but to praise Him. “Though war break out against me, even then I will be confident,” he sang (Psalm 27:3).

Yet David’s poem still hints at doubt. His cry, “Be merciful to me and answer me” (v. 7), sounds like a man with fears and questions. “Do not hide your face from me,” David pleaded. “Do not reject me or forsake me” (v. 9).

David didn’t let his doubts paralyze him, however. Even in those doubts, he declared, “I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (v. 13). Then he addressed his readers: you, me, and the Trevors of this world. “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (v. 14).

We won’t find fast, simple answers to our huge questions. But we will find—when we wait for Him—a God who can be trusted.

“God Stuff”

Most of Mike’s co-workers knew little about Christianity, nor did they seem to care. But they knew he cared. One day near the Easter season, someone casually mentioned that they’d heard Easter had something to do with Passover and wondered what the connection was. “Hey Mike!” he said. “You know about this God stuff. What’s Passover?”

So Mike explained how God brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. He told them about the ten plagues, including the death of the firstborn in every household. He explained how the death angel “passed over” the houses whose doorframes were covered by the blood of a sacrificed lamb. Then he shared how Jesus was later crucified at the Passover season as the once-and-for-all sacrificial Lamb. Suddenly Mike realized, Hey, I’m witnessing!

Peter the disciple gave advice to a church in a culture that didn’t know about God. He said, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

Because Mike had been open about his faith, he got the chance to share that faith naturally, and he could do so with “gentleness and respect” (v. 15).

We can too. With the help of God’s Holy Spirit, we can explain in simple what matters most in life—that “stuff” about God.

What’s in a Name?

In God’s timing, our son Kofi was born on a Friday, which is exactly what his name means—boy born on Friday. We named him after a Ghanaian friend of ours, a pastor whose only son died. He prays for our Kofi constantly. We’re deeply honored.

It’s easy to miss the significance in a name if you don’t know the story behind it. In Luke 3, we find a fascinating detail about a name in the ancestry of Joseph. The genealogy traces Joseph’s line backwards all the way to Adam and even to God (v. 38). In verse 31 we read: “the son of Nathan, the son of David.” Nathan? That’s interesting. In 1 Chronicles 3:5 we learn that Nathan was born to Bathsheba.

Is it coincidence that David named Bathsheba’s child Nathan? Recall the backstory. Bathsheba was never supposed to be David’s wife. Another Nathan—the prophet—bravely confronted the king for abusing his authority to exploit Bathsheba and murder her husband (see 2 Samuel 12).

David accepted the prophet’s point-blank rebuke and repented of his horrific offenses. With the healing passage of time, he would name his son Nathan. How appropriate that this was Bathsheba’s son, and that he would be one of Joseph’s ancestors. Joseph: Jesus’s earthly dad (Luke 3:23).

In the Bible, we keep finding God’s grace woven into everything—even into an obscure name in a seldom read genealogy. God’s grace is everywhere, you know.

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