How do I know I am chosen?

Because I identify myself on social media as a “chosen follower of Jesus Christ, a friend recently asked me, how do you know you are chosen, and that you will endure to the end?” This was my answer.

________, what a great question! I appreciate you taking the time to ask.

First of all, in general, I believe that all believers are chosen because of the testimony of Scripture that says we are (Eph. 1:4-5; Rom. 8:29; 2 Thess. 2:13-14).

But I think your question is more personal: How do I know that I have been chosen? And then consequently, how do I know that I will endure to the end?

I cannot say it any better than what was stated in the Canons of Dort on this very question: “The elect in due time, though in various degrees and in different measures, attain the assurance of this their eternal and unchangeable election, not by inquisitively prying into the secret and deep things of God, but by observing in themselves, with a spiritual joy and holy pleasure, the infallible fruits of election pointed out in the Word of God – such as a true faith in Christ, filial fear, a godly sorrow for sin, a hungering and thirsting after righteousness, etc.” (First Head of Doctrine, Article 12)

In other words, rather than wringing my hands wondering, wondering, wondering, am I elect, am I elect?, the “fruits of election” testify and bring assurance and help me to “confirm my calling and election” (2 Peter 1:5-10). The more I see growth in grace and sanctification and holiness, the more I am confirmed that I belong to Christ.

As I walk with Christ these many years, there is also the inner confirmation of the Holy Spirit, as “the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” This Spirit does this through various means such as through the promises in the Word, the convicting voice when I sin, and the reassuring hope that when I do sin, I have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous (1 Jn. 2:1).

As for knowing if I will endure to the end, there too I cling to God’s promises, knowing that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). Now it is true that I must endure, working out my own salvation with fear and trembling. But I do so on the foundation that it is God who works in me, “both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

It is my constant prayer that in the end I be found faithful, that I endure to the end. Not because I think a true Christian can undo God’s work and become unsaved again. True believers endure to the end (see Heb. 3:14 and take note of the verb tenses). I do not want to be found after all this, to have been a false believer.

“I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to protect what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).

Photographing fall foliage – backlighting

It’s the season when fall colors will soon be in full array, and that brings out the photographer in all of us.

First of all, the most important thing about fall colors (and any outdoor activity, for that matter) is to be present in the moment and enjoy it for what it is.

But if you do want to capture the beauty on your camera, here’s a couple of factors I’ve discovered, particularly when it comes to late-morning or early-evening lighting.

When the sun is low in the sky, you are presented with some opportunities for backlight photography. Backlight is just what it sounds like – the light source is behind, or in back of, the subject.

In the diagram above, I’ve identified three zones at which you can point your camera and achieve different results, all of them good depending on your intentions.

Pointing directly at the light source gives you direct backlight. In this setting, your foreground objects are often blackened out and silhouetted. If that’s your design, well and good. This especially looks great if you have fog among the trees and the sun is creating crepuscular rays. But it’s not the best angle for highlighting the fall colors that we’re after.

Crepuscular rays

At about 45° from the light source, the light is now a source of direct illumination. The sunlight is falling on the surface of the leaves that you see. With the sun low in the sky, colors are at their deepest as compared to midafternoon when the sun is high. At this point you have moved off backlighting. Starting at about 45°, the sun is increasingly behind you. You would want to get the sun behind you if you are photographing a hillside full of various colors.

My favorite zone of backlighting is partial backlight. This is just off the source of light, and what you are seeing here is not the light shining on the leaves, but the light shining through the leaves. This gives us the most brilliance in the colors, which pop in the photo. Notice in the top photo that it is in this zone that the hues are most vivid.

I hope this helps as you look for the right angle for shooting fall colors. Move around a bit so that you’re pointing somewhat toward the sun, but not directly! You’ll be surprised at the colors you see.

And as always, be an observer as well as a chronicler. Let the scene feed your soul!

Though the storm rages…

  Though the fig tree should not blossom, 
  nor fruit be on the vines, 
  the produce of the olive fail 
  and the fields yield no food, 
  the flock be cut off from the fold 
  and there be no herd in the stalls, 
  yet I will rejoice in the LORD; 
  I will take joy in the God of my salvation. 
  GOD, the Lord, is my strength; 
  he makes my feet like the deer’s; 
  he makes me tread on my high places. 

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Hab 3:17–19.

I was in Port Charlotte, Florida last weekend to speak at my former church, Freedom Bible Church. I was scheduled to stay until Tuesday. But, as forecasts for Hurricane Ian came in, I decided to leave on Sunday right after church, hoping to get ahead of the traffic that would certainly come when people started evacuating. This proved to be wise.

Before moving to North Carolina in 2009, we lived in southwest Florida for about 24 years. It was providential that I happened to return last weekend right before the area was hit with the devastation from Ian. For reconnecting with my friends there renewed my love for them and has given a sense of immediacy as I hear updates from so many on social media.

Again and again, the refrain is something like, “We’re safe, some damage to the roof, some trees downed; God is good.”

But what of those who lost all? What of those whose lives were not spared? Was God not good for them?

We often connect the goodness of God with our personal fortune. If things aren’t as bad as they could be, then God has been good to us.

But I don’t believe this is what my friends are saying. I think deep down what they continue to recognize is the goodness and the grace of God which is not negated by misfortune. If they had lost all possessions (and some have) or even life itself (and some have), they would still affirm that God. Is. Good.

It is as my former pastor, the late James Kibelbek, once said, “We don’t measure God’s goodness by our circumstances; we measure our circumstances by the knowledge that God is good.”

Habakkuk understood this: “Though the fig tree should not blossom. nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (Hab. 3:17-19).

Some people choose in times like this to question the very existence of God, or at least his power or goodness. “How could a good and powerful God allow such suffering?” Habakkuk chose to rejoice in the Lord, to take joy in the God who saves.

I love that expression – to take joy. We must seize it, willfully grasp for it, intentionally take hold of it. For our joy is in the God who saves.

The fact is, we don’t deserve the house that got destroyed in the first place; it is a gift from God. We don’t deserve the life, however long or short, that is snuffed out; every breath is a grace.

What life we have, no matter the degree of suffering, is more than we deserve.

I take heart from all my friends who are using this time of unimaginable devastation to proclaim the goodness and faithfulness of God our Savior!

Tanzania 2022 – July 11 – The red hat tale

In our excursions in Tanzania, we were all impressed with the kindness and friendliness of the Tanzanian people. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the tale of the red hat.

On Sunday the 10th, after attending a church service in Majengo, we arrived at a venue for lunch and a report from some members of ODS, “Open Door for Development Strategies.” This was a group begun by Lameck Sylvester, who was our guide and host while we were in Mtwara district.

The purpose of this group is to train Tanzanians, who are generally very poor and living on about $2 a day, in the mentality and skills necessary to develop sustaining businesses. They have seen many successes. As one of our guides said, “local problems need local solutions.” This is a great example of that. All in the name of Christ.

So, back to the red hat.

After we left the venue, it became apparent to me that I had left my hat behind. Now, I’ve had this hat for over 20 years and carried it with me on numerous trips, wadded up in my suitcase or pack. It’s been on many a hike, keeping the rain and sun off my head. So, I was a little disappointed but resigned to the idea that I would never see my faithful hat again.

A bajaj (ba-ZHAZH)

The next day, our group loaded into bajajes (a three-wheeled motorcycle with a body) to be carried to our next stop. We generally hired these drivers for the day, and they would hang around while we toured whatever we were seeing that day.

This particular morning, I was riding with Lameck. I noticed we were heading in the general direction of the venue where I had left my hat.

“Lameck,” I said, “Are we going to be near The Old Boma (the venue)?” He said we were not. I explained that I’d left my hat there, but no big deal if I couldn’t get it back.

By the time we arrived at our destination, a thought occurred to me. I went to David, one of our group leaders who knows the most among us about Tanzania.

I asked David if he thought it would be alright if I hired one of the bajaj drivers to go to The Old Boma to retrieve my hat. He said he didn’t see why not.

And then something wonderful happened.

Lameck overheard me asking that of David and said, “It’s already been taken care of.”

On his own, he’d asked one of our drivers to go to La Boma and rescue the lost, red hat. Shortly thereafter, I had my headgear back.

Lameck Sylvester

Time and again, we remarked at the friendliness and kindness of the Tanzanian people. There is a selflessness among the believers that is pleasant and “adorns the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:10). Often ready with a smile, they never seem put out by inconvenience or the kinds of things that would make me lose my patience. This was just another example of that.

I continue to carry those memories.

My trip to Tanzania took place in July 2022.

Tanzania 2022 – July 10 – No longer a face on the refrigerator

Yesterday brought us to a school in Majengo. After a brief welcoming ceremony, which included singing children and tribal dancers, I got to meet the child my wife and I have sponsored for several years.

During all this time, various photos of Talik Dalusi have adorned the side our our refrigerator, chronicling his growth over the years. Often not thought of or prayed for as often as he should be. Perfunctory monthly support and monetary gifts at Christmastime.

All of that ordinariness melted away in one quick moment as I came face to face with Talik’s mother, Paulina, and moments later when I was introduced to a shy little boy. Suddenly, he was no longer a picture on the refrigerator.

I gave them some pictures of my wife and me, our dog Roscoe, and our son and his family. Talik smiled and laughed as I gave him two harmonicas and played an impromptu duet with him. A ball and a Frisbee were a big hit as we played catch.

Later, Paulina asked (through an interpreter) if I wanted to see their house. Of course! So we made a short walk to their home where they invited me inside. I felt like an honored guest.

Then came the greatest surprise of all. She escorted me to a place where they had laid a foundation for a new, larger house. “We are building this with the money you send at Christmas.”

Speechless.

Other of my friends said that similar things were reported to them. “This chicken coop…” “These goats…”

It’s beyond comprehension that what to us is a small gift could make such a large difference. That the Lord could continue his five-loaves-two-fish work and that I could have a part in it literally brought me to tears.

Later on, as they were serving us lunch, Talik joined a couple of friends in a contingent helping us wash our hands. As I stood in line, one of his buddies nudged him and nodded over toward me, as if to say, “Look, there’s your man.” Normally pretty shy and reticent, Talik offered me a huge grin with white teeth.

Talik – #30

This boy on the fridge has now found a place in my heart.

Finally, the day had to end. We reluctantly pulled ourselves from throngs of happy, appreciative children.

It was encouraging to see the center that is supported by so many in my church having a real impact on the real lives of people. Where once children were taught under two large trees, they now have a well and several buildings. A foundation for a larger church building has been laid.

One of my party noted that it’s easy in America to think that the church is in decline. But all across the world, the gospel is advancing. It was thrilling to see evidence of that first-hand.

Tanzania 2022 – July 9 – Travel, travel, travel

I believe we have lost all sense of size and space. Technology has put the world instantaneously at our fingertips, and in just over 24 hours, we can travel across the planet. And then, using our tech, we can call loved ones back home and talk like it’s no big deal.

No. Big. Deal.

But it is kind of a big deal. I’m now in Tanzania, having made all the necessary connections with no flight interruptions, all my bags intact. (Too bad I can’t say that of all my party.)

To this point it’s been all about travel. On Wednesday/Thursday, we flew from Charlotte to DC to Qatar to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Friday brought a quick trip to the mall for SIM cards and cash exchange. Then a short flight to Mtwara on the southern coast, where we will be for the next 3 days.

Today we begin the actual activities of our trip. We’ll be visiting a school, where some of us, including myself, will get to meet children we’ve sponsored. The world is getting smaller.

We’ll also see some agricultural projects and the results of a savings group that is enabling people to develop sustaining economic activities. As one has said, “We first were looking to survive; now we look to see how we can help others.”

I’m sure I’ll have much more to say about that once I see it. As well as some pictures of Taliki, my Compassion child. Should be a fun day.

Tanzania 2022 – What is the mission?

And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”

Acts 15:36

I leave tomorrow for an 11-day trip to Tanzania, going with a group from my church.

Rather than going to “help them out” or to do for them what they cannot do for themselves, we are going mainly to observe what God is doing.

My church has had an ongoing relationship with the believers in TZ, having made two previous trips there. This is my first, but others have gone before. We have encouraged the saints there with medical service, instruction in church planting, support for entrepreneurial endeavors, and sponsorship of two Compassion International centers.

After our church’s last trip, Richard and Verena, a Tanzanian couple came to Asheville. They operate the Tanzanian Disciple Making Movements, a support group for local entrepreneurial work. They help local Tanzanians to be more productive in business and farming as a part of making disciples. Their goal is to see self-sustaining industries rise that will lift people out of poverty.

While they were in Asheville, I had the opportunity to sit with them and talk about business from a Christian perspective. I shared with them some of the principles that made Chick-fil-A (where I worked) such a success. We parted hoping to continue the conversation in Tanzania someday.

That day was supposed to come in 2020, but we all know what happened. All the support I’d raised was put on hold for a future visit. I appreciate the patience those who’ve supported me have shown. And now we get to go.

Our purpose is to observe. To see what God has been doing in another part of the world. To “see how they are” in the words of Paul (Acts 15:36).

I will also have the special privilege of meeting Talik, a child we have sponsored for several years through Compassion International. That should be a highlight of the trip.

If I am allowed by the sovereign design of God to be able to contribute some thoughts to the believers there, it will not be because I am greater. Rather I hope for mutual encouragement as we all – mmarekani and mtanzania – are “mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Rom. 1:12).

Asking the right questions

Part of learning, especially when it comes to difficult theological subjects, is the asking of clarifying questions. We want to make sure we’re understanding what the Bible is teaching, and questions can help us get there.

And then there are those inquiries that aren’t raised to clarify understanding, but to challenge the point being made. Querys keep being made because the questioner doesn’t like the answer.

A clarifying question can let the teacher know if the listener is missing the point. “No, that’s not what I mean. Let me try again.” But occasionally, the questioner demonstrates by his interrogatory that he totally gets the point. The teacher at this point wouldn’t retract anything but double down on his assertion.

This happens a couple of times in Paul’s writing as he anticipates his readers’ questions.

One such occasion is in Romans 6:1. Paul has been talking about the gospel, and in particular, that where sin increased, grace abounds all the more.

This leads to the query: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”

This question demonstrates an accurate understanding of the gospel points that Paul has been making: that “one is justified by faith apart from works” (Rom. 3:28).

Paul doesn’t at this point back off his point as if his readers misunderstand. Instead, the question asked reveal a clarity of comprehension.

The gospel is shocking. That the most heinous of sinners can receive forgiveness and justification without earning them is a most jarring thought when encountered fully. It leads naturally to the question of Romans 6:1. The query demonstrates that the hearer “got it.”

We see this also in Romans 9. Paul is discussing God’s sovereign freedom to dispense mercy as he pleases – “He has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (Rom. 9:18).

Then comes the anticipated objection: “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?'” (9:19).

Paul at this point doesn’t say, “Wait a minute. That’s not what I meant.” In fact, he goes all in on his statements (vv. 20-21), affirming God’s sovereign freedom and grace.

I’ll take it one step further. In this topic, which is full of mysteries which cannot be reconciled in our finite minds, we must get to the unanswerable question. If you’ve come to the place where you have “settled” these truths and questions like Paul raises don’t grab you, then perhaps you have not penetrated to the heart of the matter.

Paul not only doesn’t directly answer the objection, he also doesn’t hedge his statement. Instead, he turns the objection back on his readers to accuse them of “answering back to God.” He gives his answer: you’re in rebellion against God’s revelation.

Paul’s response to this objection accuses them of continuing to question God’s revealed sovereignty and right as the Divine Potter over the clay of his creation.

Paul understands the heart that drives this objection; it is a recalcitrant heart that does not submit to the God who dispenses mercy as he pleases.

This is a hard teaching to think about. But the revelation is clear at this point. God is sovereignly gracious to whom he pleases. Objecting to this teaching reveals far more about the heart and mind that won’t submit to this revealed truth than it does about the difficulty of the doctrine.

Objecting to this teaching [of God’s sovereign grace] reveals far more about the heart and mind that won’t submit to this revealed truth than it does about the difficulty of the doctrine.

The problem is not the questioning. The problem is that the questions keep being asked even after revelation has been given.

The question rightly asked demonstrates clarity of perception. The same question repeatedly asked demonstrates contrariness of posture.