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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

Live Wire

“I felt like I had touched a live wire,” said professor Holly Ordway, describing her reaction to John Donne’s majestic poem “Holy Sonnet 14.” There’s something happening in this poetry, she thought. I wonder what it is. Ordway recalls it as the moment her previously atheistic worldview allowed for the possibility of the supernatural. Eventually she would believe in the transforming reality of the resurrected Christ.

Touching a live wire—that must have been how Peter, James, and John felt on the day Jesus took them to a mountaintop, where they witnessed a dramatic transformation. Jesus’s “clothes became dazzling white” (Mark 9:3) and Elijah and Moses appeared—an event we know today as the Transfiguration.

Descending from the mountain, Jesus told the disciples not to tell anyone what they’d seen until He’d risen (v. 9). But they didn’t even know what He meant by “rising from the dead” (v. 10). 

The disciples’ understanding of Jesus was woefully incomplete, because they couldn’t conceive of a destiny that included His death and resurrection. But eventually their experiences with their resurrected Lord would utterly transform their lives. Late in his life, Peter described his encounter with Jesus’s Transfiguration as the time when the disciples were first “eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).

As Professor Ordway and the disciples learned, when we encounter Jesus’s power we touch a “live wire.” There’s something happening here. The living Christ beckons us.

Mercy’s Lament

Her father blamed his illness on witchcraft. It was AIDS. When he died, his daughter, ten-year-old Mercy, grew even closer to her mother. But her mother was sick too, and three years later she died. From then on, Mercy’s sister raised the five siblings. That’s when Mercy began to keep a journal of her deep pain.

The prophet Jeremiah kept a record of his pain too. In the grim book of Lamentations, he wrote of atrocities perpetrated on Judah by the Babylonian army. Jeremiah’s heart was especially grieved for the youngest victims. “My heart is poured out on the ground,” he cried, “because my people are destroyed, because children and infants faint in the streets of the city” (2:11). The people of Judah had a history of ignoring God, but their children were paying the price too. “Their lives ebb away in their mothers’ arms,” wrote Jeremiah (v. 12).

We might have expected Jeremiah to reject God in the face of such tremendous suffering. Instead, he urged the survivors, “Pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children” (v. 19).

It’s good, like Mercy and Jeremiah did, to pour out our hearts to God. Lament is a crucial part of being human. Even when God permits such pain, God grieves with us. Made as we are in His image, He must lament too!

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

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