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About 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).

A National Campout

By |2024-07-02T02:33:07-04:00July 2nd, 2024|

We camped under the stars, with nothing between us and the infinite West African sky. No need for a tent in the dry season. But the fire was crucial. “Never let the fire go out,” Dad said, prodding the logs with a stick. Fire kept wildlife at a distance. God’s creatures are wonderful, but you never want a leopard or a snake meandering through your campsite.

Dad was a missionary to Ghana’s Upper Region, and he had a knack for turning everything into a teaching moment. Camping was no exception.  

God used campouts as a teaching point for His people too. Once a year, for an entire week, the Israelites were to live in shelters made of “branches from luxuriant trees—from palms, willows and other leafy trees” (Leviticus 23:40). The purpose was twofold. God told them, “All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt” (vv. 42-43). But the event was also to be festive. “Rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days” (v. 40).  

Camping may not be your idea of fun, but God instituted a one-week campout for the Israelites as a joyful way to recall His goodness. We easily forget the meaning at the heart of our holidays. Our festivals can be joyous reminders of the character of our loving God. He created fun too.

Shebna’s Grave

By |2024-06-11T02:34:50-04:00June 11th, 2024|

Irish poet W. B. Yeats wanted to be buried “Under Ben Bulben,” a stately mountain after which he titled one of his last poems. The poem’s final line is etched onto his gravestone: Cast a cold eye/ On life, on death./ Horseman, pass by!

Much speculation has taken place over what this means. Perhaps it’s the poet’s acknowledgment of the reality of both life and death. Regardless, Yeats got his wish about where he was buried and what his gravestone would say. But the cold truth is that life goes on without us, indifferent to our departure.

During a dire time in Judah’s history, Shebna, a “palace administrator,” made a tomb for himself to insure his legacy after death. But God, through His prophet Isaiah, told Shebna, “Who gave you permission to cut out a grave for yourself here, hewing your grave on the height and chiseling your resting place in the rock?” (Isaiah 22:16). The prophet told him, “[God] will roll you up tightly like a ball and throw you into a large country. There you will die” (v. 18).

Shebna had missed the point. What matters isn’t where we’re buried; what matters in life is who we serve. Those who serve Jesus have this immeasurable comfort: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13). We serve a God who’s never indifferent to our “departure.” He anticipates our arrival and welcomes us home.

A Solitary Voice

By |2024-05-13T02:33:06-04:00May 13th, 2024|

After the Paris Peace Conference that concluded World War I, French Marshall Ferdinand Foch bitterly observed, “This is not peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.” Foch’s view contradicted the popular opinion that the horrifying conflict would be the “war to end all wars.” Twenty years and two months later, World War II erupted. Foch was right.

Long ago, Micaiah, the lone true prophet of God in the region at the time, prophesied dire military results for Israel (2 Chronicles 18:7). In contrast, four hundred of King Ahab’s false prophets foretold victory. “Look, the other prophets without exception are predicting success for the king,” a court official told Micaiah. “Let your word agree with theirs, and speak favorably” (v. 12).

Micaiah responded, “I can tell him only what my God says” (v. 13). He prophesied how Israel would be “scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd” (v. 16). Micaiah was right. The Arameans killed Ahab and his army fled (vv. 33-34; 1 Kings 22:35–36).

Like Micaiah, we who follow Jesus share a message that contradicts popular opinion. The One who is “the way and the truth and the life” told us, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Many don’t like that message because it seems harshly narrow. Too exclusive, people say. Yet Jesus brings a comforting message that’s inclusive. He welcomes everyone who turns to Him. 

God’s Agents of Peace

By |2024-04-12T02:33:11-04:00April 12th, 2024|

Nora went to the peaceful protest because she felt strongly about the issue of justice. As planned, the demonstration was silent. The protestors walked in powerful quietness through the downtown area.

Then two buses pulled up. Agitators had arrived from out of town. A riot soon broke out. Heartbroken, Nora left. It seemed their good intentions were fruitless.

When the apostle Paul visited the temple at Jerusalem, people who opposed Paul saw him there. They were “from the province of Asia” (Acts 21:27) and viewed Jesus as a threat to their way of life. Shouting lies and rumors about Paul, they quickly stirred up trouble (vv. 28-29). A mob dragged Paul from the temple and beat him. Soldiers came running.

As he was being arrested, Paul asked the Roman commander if he could address the crowd (vv. 37-38). When permission was granted, he spoke to the crowd in their own language, surprising them and seizing their attention (v. 40). And just like that, Paul had turned a riot into an opportunity to share his story of rescue from dead religion (Acts 22:2-21).

Some people love violence and division. Don’t lose heart. They will not win. God is looking for courageous believers to share His light and peace with our desperate world. What seems like a crisis might be your opportunity to show someone God’s love.

Renaissance in Jesus

By |2024-03-24T02:33:13-04:00March 24th, 2024|

We know Leonardo da Vinci as the renaissance man. His intellectual prowess led to tremendous advances across multiple fields of study and the arts. Yet Leonardo journaled of “these miserable days of ours” and lamented that we die “without leaving behind any memory of ourselves in the mind of men.”

“While I thought I was learning how to live,” said Leonardo, “I was learning how to die.” In this, he was closer to the truth than he may have realized. Learning how to die is the way to life. After Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (what we now celebrate as Palm Sunday, see John 12:12–19), He said, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24). He spoke this about His own death but expanded it to include us all: “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (v. 25).

The apostle Paul wrote of being “buried” with Christ “through baptism into death.” In this, Paul anticipated our resurrected life. “Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life,” he said (Romans 6:4). “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will also certainly be united with him in a resurrection like this” (v. 5).

Through His death, Jesus offers us rebirth—the very meaning of renaissance. He has forged the way to eternal life with His Father.

Eternal Legacy

By |2024-03-15T02:33:15-04:00March 15th, 2024|

As Dust Bowl sandstorms ravaged the USA during the Great Depression, John Millburn Davis, a resident of Hiawatha, Kansas, decided to make a name for himself. A self-made millionaire with no children, Davis might have invested in charity or economic development. Instead, at great expense, he commissioned eleven life-size statues of himself and his deceased wife to stand in the local cemetery.

“They hate me in Kansas,” Davis told journalist Ernie Pyle. Local residents wanted him to fund the construction of public facilities like a hospital, swimming pool, or park. Yet all he said was, “It’s my money and I spend it the way I please.”

King Solomon, the wealthiest man of his day, wrote, “Whoever loves money never has enough,” and “as goods increase, so do those who consume them” (Ecclesiastes 5:10–11). Solomon had grown keenly aware of the corrupting tendencies of wealth.

The apostle Paul also understood the temptation of wealth and chose to invest his life in obedience to Jesus. Awaiting execution in a Roman prison, he wrote triumphantly, “I am being poured out like a drink offering. I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:6–7).

What lasts isn’t what we chisel in stone or horde for ourselves. It’s what we give out of love for each other and for Him—the One who shows us how to love.

 

Even Leviticus

By |2024-02-29T01:33:26-05:00February 29th, 2024|

The topic was Leviticus, and I had a confession to make. “I skipped a lot of the reading,” I told my Bible study group. “I’m not reading about skin diseases again.”

That’s when my friend Dave spoke up. “I know a guy who believed in Jesus because of that passage,” he said. Dave explained that his friend—a doctor—had been an atheist. He decided that before he completely rejected the Bible, he’d better read it for himself. The section on skin diseases in Leviticus fascinated him. It contained surprising details about contagious and noncontagious sores (13:3–44) and how to treat them (14:8–9). He knew this far surpassed the medical knowledge of that day—yet there it was in Leviticus. There’s no way Moses could have known all this, he thought. The doctor began to consider that Moses really did receive his information from God. Eventually he put his faith in Jesus.  

If parts of the Bible bore you, well, I’m with you. But everything it says is there for a reason. Leviticus was written so the Israelites would know how to live for Him. As we learn more about this relationship between God and His people, we learn about God Himself.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, wrote the apostle Paul (2 Timothy 3:16). Let’s read on. Even Leviticus.

Extending Dignity

By |2024-02-05T01:33:17-05:00February 5th, 2024|

Maggie’s guest showed up in church shockingly dressed. No one should have been surprised though; her young friend was a prostitute. Maggie’s visitor shifted uneasily in her seat, alternately tugging at her much-too-short skirt and folding her arms self-consciously around herself.

“Oh, are you cold?” Maggie asked, deftly diverting attention away from how she was dressed. “Here! Take my shawl.”

Maggie never evangelized in the traditional sense. Yet she introduced dozens of people to Jesus simply by inviting them to come to church and helping them feel comfortable. The gospel had a way of shining through her winsome methods. She treated everyone with dignity.

When religious leaders dragged a woman before Jesus with the harsh (and accurate) charge of adultery, Christ kept the attention off her until He sent her accusers away. Once they were gone, He could have scolded her. Instead, He asked two simple questions: “Where are they?” and “Has no one condemned you?” (John 8:10). The answer to the latter question, of course, was no. So Jesus gave her the gospel in one brief statement: “Then neither do I condemn you.” And then the invitation: “Go now and leave your life of sin” (v. 11).

Never underestimate the power of genuine love for people—the kind of love that refuses to condemn, even as it extends dignity and forgiveness to everyone.  

The Meaning of Myrrh

By |2024-01-06T01:33:24-05:00January 6th, 2024|

Today is Epiphany—the event described by the carol “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” It’s the time when Gentile wisemen visited the child Jesus. Yet they weren’t kings, they weren’t from the Far East (as Orient formerly meant), and it’s unlikely there were three of them.

There were, however, three gifts, and the carol considers each. When the magi arrived in Bethlehem, “They opened their treasures and presented [Jesus] with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11). The gifts symbolize Jesus’ mission. Gold represents His role as King. Frankincense, mixed with the incense burned in the sanctuary, speaks of His deity.

Myrrh, used to embalm dead bodies, gives us pause. The fourth verse of the carol says, “Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume / breathes a life of gathering gloom; / sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, / sealed in the stone-cold tomb.” We wouldn’t write such a scene into the story, but God did. Jesus’ death is central to our salvation. Herod even attempted to kill Jesus while He was yet a child (v. 13).

The carol’s last verse weaves the three themes together: “Glorious now behold him arise; / King and God and sacrifice.” This completes the story of Christmas, inspiring our response: “Alleluia, Alleluia, / sounds through the earth and skies.”

The Son Also Rises

By |2024-01-02T01:33:16-05:00January 2nd, 2024|

Ernest Hemingway’s first full-length novel features hard-drinking friends who have recently endured World War I. They bear the scars, literal and figurative, of the war’s devastation and try to cope with it via parties, grand adventures, and sleeping around. Always, there is alcohol to numb the pain. No one is happy.

Hemingway’s title for his book, The Sun Also Rises, comes straight from the pages of Ecclesiastes (1:5 nkjv). In Ecclesiastes, King Solomon refers to himself as “the Teacher.” He observes, “Everything is meaningless” (v. 1) and asks, “What do people gain from all their labors?” (v. 3). Solomon saw how the sun rises and sets, the wind blows to and fro, the rivers flow endlessly into a never satisfied sea (vv. 5–7). Ultimately, all is forgotten (v. 11).

Both Hemingway and Ecclesiastes confront us with the stark futility of living for this life only. Solomon, however, weaves bright hints of the divine into his book. There is permanence—and real hope. Ecclesiastes shows us as we truly are, but it also shows God as He is. “Everything God does will endure forever,” said Solomon (3:14), and therein lies our great hope. For God has given us the gift of us His Son Jesus.

Apart from God, we’re adrift in an endless, never satisfied sea. Through His risen Son Jesus, we’re reconciled to Him. We discover our meaning, value, and purpose.

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