Finding faith in the bible

I always get a thrill of joy when I read John 1:9-13, particularly verses 12 & 13.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, the gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. [John 1:9–13, ESV]

To be given the right to become a child of God, born anew by the choice and approval of God!

Perhaps the thrill I find in this passage is the result of having been on both sides of the belief fence described here. Growing up I was agnostic, verging on atheistic in my attitudes towards Christianity in particular. Yet, when I did encounter Christian faith up close I found I envied my friends who could believe in God and Jesus. Even in my unbelief I saw the comfort that could come from having wholehearted faith in God, but I simply did not have even a hint of such faith.

It was about three years later that I crossed from being someone who didn’t know Jesus to believing in him and being given the right to become a child of God. And the faith which got me to that place was also a gift from God, coming through reading the gospel of John before I believed.

As I read John’s gospel I had an increasing sense that what I was reading was true. Jesus as portrayed in this gospel was alive and real, interacting with ordinary folks like me, quite different to how I had imagined God to be. The more I read the more convinced I became that what I was reading could be true. And if it was true, then I was in big trouble!

God let me stew on that for half a week before I was invited to church by a friend and somehow found myself praying to Jesus, asking him to forgive my sin and redeem my soul.

What stands out to me now almost thirty years later is that God birthed faith in me through my reading the Bible despite me barely understanding what I was reading.  Now I seek to rekindle the fire of my faith, remembering the way God started me on this path confirms that I should I seek Him again in His Word.

An oddly vivid memory

On a grey and wet Wednesday in August I found the direction I needed in my search for some meaning in life. The book had a yellow cover and after an hour of reading my entire worldview was being turned on it’s head.

My late contribution to 5 minute Friday. The word this week is vivid.
The task: Write for 5 minutes – no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking.

The dullness

Most days of my life pass with little recollection, my memories of those days are dull. However, there is a day – a Wednesday in August 1988 – which is vividly etched in my memory. It was a wet, grey August and I was not particularly happy. I’d been in this city for a year. My search for meaning in life was going round in circles and the ache to have purpose grew stronger.

My ignorance

A friend of mine was a fiery new Pentecostal Christian. I liked her despite her attempts to convert me. In my arrogance I thought I knew better than her misplaced trust in Jesus and a God who did not exist. Or so I thought…

At one point in my arguing with her she mentioned that if I was ever to read the Bible I should start with the Gospel of John. For some now unrecalled reason I decided to do this.

A vibrant new beginning

I found a Bible in the public library – a Good News Bible with a bright yellow cover – and began reading John’s Gospel.

By the time I reached chapter 7 I was puzzled why the Jews could not see that Jesus is God. By chapter 21 the command from Jesus, “Follow me” was vividly targeted at me (John 21:19). I knew that life had changed for me. All I had been painting on the canvas of my life was now irrelevant, God was giving me eternal life. The dull background was about to be painted in vivid new colours.

Image of paint cans: wragg (iStock)

Netted recently, April 16

Burmese New Year celebrations – The Water Festival
Netted recently (and not so recently):
  • I Hate Hell is a sobering reminder from Tim Challies of what most of us choose to forget.
  • What Really Matters Most: How did you live your life today? What’s your plan for tomorrow? Are you neglecting people for the sake of “more important things”? Well worth taking the time to read this post. And if you are a Dad and feel like you don’t have time to read a long post then you need to read it!
  • People in Burma believe that pouring water over each other washes away bad luck from recent years and will bring  good luck for the year to come. See pictures of New Year festivities in Rangoon(link broken). Burmese New Year celebrations were on 13, 14 and 15 April this year.
  • Religious Conversion Worst Form of ‘Intolerance,’ Bhutan PM Says(link broken): I find this article challenging –

    The first premise [of seeking conversion] is that you believe that your religion is the right religion, and the religion of the convertee is wrong – what he believes in is wrong, what he practices is wrong, that your religion is superior and that you have this responsibility to promote your way of life, your way of thinking, your way of worship,” Thinley said. “It’s the worst form of intolerance. And it divides families and societies.”

    I have to agree with him in this statement, this is exactly what Christianity claims, and it is by nature an evangelistic faith, Christ commands us to make disciples and he said himself that he came to divide homes (Matthew 10:34-39). Yet I also agree that many of the aggressive means used by some Christians (not just oddball sects) are pushing the boundaries and verge on using fear or bribery to gain converts. This challenges me to ponder what Christian conversion really means and what role the evangelist should be playing; we cannot be be completely passive or no gospel is preached, yet if too aggressive the role of faith and the Holy Spirit in ‘conversion’ can come into doubt.

The hope of the Gospel

After even a few chapters of John’s Gospel I knew that Jesus was no ordinary man, but after the nails, the blood and the water, it was clear that he is the Saviour I’d never known I needed.


A little bit of how I came to faith in Jesus Christ.
I have been thinking about Colossians 1:23 this week, which begins:

If indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard…
(Colossians 1:23 ESV)

This week I have felt anything but ‘stable and steadfast’ – stumbling and stuck is a better description. Fortunately Paul throws a tow rope to haul me out of the bog – the hope of the gospel that you heard.

Depending on where I’m at, there are varying degrees of how fresh the hope of the gospel is in my mind – sometimes it has been resonating within me as I consider Christ, the cross, and my desperate need of grace. Other times much older memories need to be dragged up to remind me of the gospel hope. Today falls into that second category.

Knowledge of the gospel is still very real to me. Acute experience of my need of the gospel is painfully immediate. It is hope which has faded in intensity, so it is good to be prompted to recall the hope which once blazed so intensely that it tore me away from worldly hopes.

I vividly remember sitting in my room in a flat, feet propped up on the desk, leaning back in my chair reading the Gospel of John from a yellow Good News Bible. The ancient words of a carpenter from Galilee arrested me. “Follow me”, he said (John 1:43). Not an invitation, a command. Yet a command I wanted to obey.

After even a few chapters of John’s Gospel I knew that Jesus was no ordinary man, but after the nails, the blood and the water, it was clear that he is the Saviour I’d never known I needed. That was over 20 years ago now but the memory is burned into me – by this stage I’d already been on a 4-year quest to figure out what it might mean to live a worthwhile life1. I was looking for what I could do to make my life have meaning and a philosophical framework that made everything make sense.

I was certainly not looking for a religion and not looking for a god. Reading John’s Gospel I encountered God – and somehow knew I was in big trouble, if God is real (and after 6 chapters I was convinced He was) then I had spent 18 years denying His existence and had no right to be in His universe. So in Jesus I found this paradox, the terror of encountering God, yet the hope of his words, “Follow me”.

So I followed…

I still am.

“Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at table close to him and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”
(John 21:20-22 ESV)

1) Calling my blundering a ‘quest’ makes it sound much more purposeful than it was. In effect I just explored every philosophy or worldview I could get my head around in the hope of learning what this thing called life is all about – otherwise it was looking to me to be utterly meaningless.

Colossians in bite sizes

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
(Colossians 1:1-2 ESV)

Over at A Holy Experience, Ann Voskamp is encouraging folks to join in memorising the book of Colossians this year in bite-sized, two-verses-per-week portions. Given that my own attempt at memorizing Bible verses fizzled around March last year I am keen to try this project and make it public so the shame of giving up will spur me on to persevere. I have downloaded Ann’s nicely formatted PDFs but am too stingy to use a new Moleskine notebook to paste the pages into and also prefer to use another translation so am simply handwriting the verses for the week in my usual planner diary. I actually find that handwriting Bible verses does help me to take them in and using the same Bible translation for memorising as the one I read every day (well, most days) also helps it to stick.

So, being on the theme of beginning the year and making changes (see my post about Essentials), it is relevant to share some thoughts about the very first verse of Colossians which were seeded in my mind by a recent post on another excellent blog, Crave Something More written by Chris Tomlinson. In the particular post which stuck in my mind Chris ponders the astonishing change in Saul (Paul) from the guy who didn’t know who Jesus was when He knocked him off his horse (Acts 9:5) to the man who boldly stated that: “for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). This is the same Paul who says to the Colossians that he is ‘an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. Saul had absolutely no intention of becoming an apostle of Jesus Christ. God had other plans for him.

This was certainly my own experience also. No dramatic lights and voices from heaven, but definitely an arresting realization that all my ideas about what was important in life were wrong and that not only is God real, but Jesus is real and without Him I am doomed. None of us are born into the Kingdom of God by our own will but only by the gracious will of God. As John so wonderfully expresses it:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
(John 1:12-13 ESV)