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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).

Heart Problem

By |2023-01-18T01:33:19-05:00January 18th, 2023|

“Do you see it, brother Tim?” My friend, a Ghanaian pastor, flashed his torchlight on a carved object leaning against a mud hut. Quietly he said, “That is the village idol.” Each Tuesday evening, Pastor Sam traveled into the bush to share the Bible in this remote village.

In the book of Ezekiel, we see how idolatry plagued the people of Judah. When Jerusalem’s leaders came to see the prophet Ezekiel, God told him, “These men have set up idols in their hearts” (14:3). God wasn’t merely warning them against idols carved of wood and stone. He was showing them that idolatry is a problem of the heart. We all struggle with it.

Bible teacher Alistair Begg describes an idol as “anything other than God that we regard as essential to our peace, our self-image, our contentment, or our acceptability.” Even things that have the appearance of being noble can become idols to us. When we seek comfort or self-worth from anything other than the living God, we commit idolatry.

“Repent!” God said. “Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!” (v. 6). Israel proved incapable of doing this. Thankfully, God had the solution. Looking forward to the coming of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit, He promised, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you” (36:26). We can’t do this alone.

Christmas-Card Perfect

By |2022-12-25T01:33:11-05:00December 25th, 2022|

The Barker family Christmas video was perfect. Three robe-clad shepherds (the family’s young sons) huddled around a fire in a grassy field. Suddenly an angel descended from the hilltop—their big sister, looking resplendent, except for the pink high-top sneakers. As the soundtrack swelled, the shepherds stared skyward in amazement. A trek across a field led them to a real baby—their infant brother in a modern barn. Big sister now played the role of Mary.

Then came the “bonus features,” when their dad let us peek behind the scenes. Whiny kids complained, “I’m cold.” “I have to go to the bathroom right now!” “Can we go home?” “Guys, pay attention,” said their mom more than once. Reality was far from Christmas-card perfect.

It’s easy to view the original Christmas story through the lens of a well-edited final cut. But from start to finish, Jesus’ life was anything but smooth. A jealous Herod tried to kill Him in infancy (Matthew 2:13). Mary and Joseph misunderstood Him (Luke 2:41–50). The world hated Him (John 7:7). For a time, even His brothers didn’t believe in Him (7:5). His mission led to a grisly death. He did it all to honor His Father and rescue us.

The Barkers’ Christmas video ended with these words of Jesus: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). That’s a reality we can live with—forever.

No Cursing

By |2022-12-20T01:33:11-05:00December 20th, 2022|

William Shakespeare was a master of the insult, a “quality” that actor Barry Kraft adeptly leverages with his Shakespeare Insult Generator. The clever little book consists of obscure insults drawn from Shakespeare’s plays. For instance, you might disparage someone by saying, “Thou thrasonical, logger-headed rampallian”—which is so much more creative than saying, “You brag a lot and you’re not very smart, you scoundrel!”

Kraft’s light-hearted book is in good fun. But an ancient king of Moab once tried to pay a mysterious prophet, not merely to insult the Israelites but to outright curse them. “Come and put a curse on these people,” King Balak told Balaam (Numbers 22:6). Instead, Balaam enraged the king by blessing the Hebrew people—multiple times (24:10). One of his blessings included this prophecy: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near” (24:17). Clearly the individual in view is not yet on the scene, but just who is Balaam talking about? The next line holds a clue. “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel” (v. 17). The “star” would one day lead wise men to the promised Child (Matthew 2:1–2).

Think of it! An ancient Mesopotamian prophet who knew nothing of Messiah pointed the world to a future sign declaring His arrival. From an unlikely source came not cursing, but blessing. 

The Source

By |2022-11-11T01:33:12-05:00November 11th, 2022|

It was 1854, and something was killing thousands of people in London. It must be the bad air, people thought. And indeed, as unseasonable heat baked the sewage-fouled River Thames, the smell grew so bad it became known as “The Great Stink.”

But the worst problem wasn’t the air. Research by Dr. John Snow would show that contaminated water was the cause of the cholera epidemic.

We humans have long been aware of another crisis—one that stinks to high heaven. We live in a broken world—and we’re prone to misidentify the source of this problem, treating symptoms instead. Wise social programs and policies do some good, but they’re powerless to stop the root cause of society’s ills—our sinful hearts!

When Jesus said, “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them,” He wasn’t referring to physical diseases (Mark 7:15). Rather, He was diagnosing the spiritual condition of every one of us. “It is what comes out of a person that defiles them,” He said (v. 15), listing a litany of evils lurking inside us (vv. 21–22).

“Surely I was sinful at birth,” David wrote (Psalm 51:5). His lament is one we can all voice. We’re broken from the beginning. That’s why David prayed, “Create in me a pure heart, O God” (v. 10). Every day, we need that new heart, created by Jesus through His Spirit.

Instead of treating the symptoms, we must let Jesus purify the source.

God in the Details

By |2022-10-20T02:33:03-04:00October 20th, 2022|

It had been an awful week for Kevin and Kimberley. Kevin’s seizures had suddenly worsened and he’d been hospitalized. Amid the pandemic their four young children—siblings adopted from foster care—were taking cabin fever to a new extreme. On top of that, Kimberley couldn’t scrounge up a decent meal from the fridge. Oddly, at that moment, she craved carrots.

An hour later there was a knock at the door. There stood their friends Amanda and Andy, with an entire meal she’d prepared for the family. Including carrots.

They say the devil is in the details? No. An amazing story in the history of the Jewish people shows God in the details. Pharaoh had commanded, “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile” (Exodus 1:22). That genocidal development turned on a remarkable detail. Moses’ mother did indeed “throw” her baby into the Nile, albeit with a strategy. And from the Nile, Pharaoh’s own daughter would rescue the baby whom God used to rescue His people. She would even pay Moses’ mother to nurse him (2:9).

One day from this fledgling Jewish nation would come a promised baby boy. His story would abound with amazing details and divine ironies. Most importantly, Jesus would provide an exodus out of our slavery to sin.

Even—especially—in the dark times, God is in the details. As Kimberley will tell you, “God brought me carrots!”

Baby Boy

By |2022-10-14T16:06:22-04:00October 14th, 2022|

For more than a year, his legal name was “Baby Boy.” Discovered by a security guard who heard his cries, Baby Boy had been abandoned—hours old and wrapped only in a bag—in a hospital parking lot.

Soon after his discovery, Social Services called the people who would one day become his forever family. The couple took him in and called him Grayson (not his real name). Finally, the adoption was complete, and Grayson’s name became official. Today you can meet a delightful child who mispronounces his r’s as he earnestly engages you in conversation. You’d never guess he’d once been found abandoned in a bag.

Late in his life, Moses reviewed God’s character and what He had done for the people of Israel. “The Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them,” Moses told them (Deuteronomy 18:15). This love had a broad scope. “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing,” Moses said (v. 18). “He is the one you praise; he is your God” (v. 21).

Whether it’s through adoption, or simply through love and service, we’re all called to reflect God’s love. That loving couple became the hands and feet God used to extend His love to someone who might have gone unnoticed and unclaimed. We can serve as His hands and feet too

Uncommon Era

By |2022-09-10T02:33:11-04:00September 10th, 2022|

Despite living much of his life as a pagan, the Roman emperor Constantine (272–337 ad) implemented reforms that stopped the systematic persecution of Christians. He also instituted the calendar we use, dividing all of history into bc (Before Christ) and ad (Anno Domini, or Year of our Lord).

A move to secularize this system has changed the labels to ce (Common Era) and bce (Before the Common Era). Some people point to this as yet one more example of how the world keeps God out.

But God hasn’t gone anywhere. Regardless of the name, our calendar still centers itself around the reality of Jesus’ life on earth.

In the Bible, the book of Esther is unusual in that it contains no specific mention of God. Yet the story it tells is one of God’s deliverance. Banished from their homeland, the Jewish people lived in a country indifferent to Him. A powerful government official wanted to kill them all (Esther 8:8–9, 13). Yet through Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecai, God delivered His people, a story still celebrated to this day in the Jewish holiday of Purim (9:20–32).

Regardless of how the world chooses to respond to Him now, Jesus changed everything. He introduced us to an uncommon era—one full of genuine hope and promise. All we need to do is look around us. We’ll see Him.  

The Course of a Lifetime

By |2022-08-23T02:33:04-04:00August 23rd, 2022|

“There are different questions a young artist can ask,” says singer/songwriter Linford Detweiler of Over the Rhine. “One is, ‘What must I do to be famous?’” Detweiler warns that such a goal “swings the door open to all manner of destructive forces from both within and without.” He and his wife have instead chosen a less flashy musical road in which they “continue to grow over the course of an entire lifetime.”

The name of Jehoiada isn’t readily recognized, yet it’s synonymous with a lifetime of dedication to God. He served as priest during the reign of King Joash, who for the most part ruled well—thanks to Jehoiada.

When Joash was just seven years old, Jehoiada had been the catalyst in installing him as rightful king (2 Kings 11:1–16). But this was no power grab. At Joash’s coronation, Jehoiada “made a covenant between the Lord and the king and people that they would be the Lord’s people” (v. 17). He kept his word, implementing badly needed reforms. “As long as Jehoiada lived, burnt offerings were presented continually in the temple of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 24:14). For his dedication, Jehoiada “was buried with the kings in the City of David” (v. 16).

Eugene Peterson calls such a God-focused life “a long obedience in the same direction.” Ironically, it’s such obedience that stands out in a world bent on fame, power, and self-fulfillment.

In This Together

By |2022-08-01T02:33:13-04:00August 1st, 2022|

Kelly was battling brain cancer when the COVID-19 crisis hit. Then fluid developed around her heart and lungs and she had to be hospitalized again. Her family couldn’t visit because of the pandemic. Her husband, Dave, vowed to do something.

Gathering loved ones together, Dave asked them to make large signs with messages. They did. Wearing masks, twenty people stood on the street outside the hospital holding signs: “BEST MOM!” “LOVE YOU.” “WE ARE WITH U.” With the help of a nurse, Kelly made her way to a fourth-floor window. “All we could see was a facemask and a waving hand,” her husband posted on social media, “but it was a beautiful facemask and waving hand.”

Late in his life, the apostle Paul felt alone as he languished in a Roman prison. He wrote to Timothy, “Do your best to get here before winter” (2 Timothy 4:21). Yet Paul wasn’t totally alone. “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength,” he said (v. 17). And it’s also apparent that he had some encouraging contact with other believers. “Eubulus greets you,” he said to Timothy, “and so do Pudens, Linus, Claudia and all the brothers and sisters” (v. 21).

We’re created for community, and we feel that most keenly when we’re in crisis. What might you do for someone who may feel entirely alone today?  

God of the Garden

By |2022-07-26T02:33:04-04:00July 26th, 2022|

Many years ago, Joni Mitchell wrote a song called “Woodstock” in which she saw the human race trapped in a “bargain” with the devil. Urging her listeners to seek a simpler, more peaceful existence, she sang of a return to “the garden.” Mitchell spoke for a generation longing for purpose and meaning.

Mitchell’s poetical “garden” is Eden, of course. Eden was the paradise God created for us back in the beginning. In this garden, Adam and Eve met with God on a regular basis—until the day they made their bargain with the devil (see Genesis 3:6–7). That day was different. “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (v. 8).

When God asked what they’d done, Adam and Eve engaged in a lot of blame-shifting. Despite their denial, God didn’t leave them there. He “made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (v. 21), a sacrifice that hinted at the death Jesus would endure to cover our sins.

God didn’t give us a way back to Eden. He gave us a way forward into restored relationship with Him. We can’t return to the garden. But we can return to the God of the garden.

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