Along my blogging journey, I have met some amazing people that have encouraged and inspired my own as well. One of these people is R. Christian Bohlen, who has quite an extraordinary testimony of how he came to know God, through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
R. Christian Bohlen has been
involved in ministry and church leadership for over thirty years, including
oversight of a prison ministry program in central PA. He holds an M.S. degree
in communications and has received multiple personal and team awards as a human
performance improvement consultant, instructional designer, and program manager
to Fortune 500 companies throughout the United States and Canada.
His prior work with juvenile offenders and his own
family’s trauma due to mental health issues instilled a commitment to somehow
help those who need it most to find comfort in Christ. For over twenty years,
he has labored to simplify and clarify the beauties of the life of Jesus Christ
for everyone, regardless of background or knowledge of the scriptures. In 2018,
he launched Christ on the Inside
prison and addiction recovery ministry with the goal of making easy-to-read
books about the life of Jesus available at no cost (and no profit to anyone).
My Conversion Story
I’ve devoted over 20 years to
writing a book about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, mostly because of
the remarkable and unforgettable way Christ kept pursuing me and not giving up
In my 20’s, the confusion of trying
to find my way to God was torturous—in spite of my sincerest efforts.
Finally “finding Christ”
brought the peace and clarity I was looking for, but it certainly wasn’t like
walking into a door labeled Nirvana and then thinking, “Ahh!
It’s all good now.”
There was a process that gradually
filled me with light—triggered by one key insight and the most difficult
decision of my entire life.
Up in Light and Truth
I was raised by faith-filled parents
in a gospel-centered home. It was an idyllic setting. A family with father,
mother, three children and a large community with kids everywhere, bordered by
the dense forests of northwest Pennsylvania where we played and fantasized.
Attending church every Sunday was a
given. Family prayer was routine and sincere and our home had a spirit of
meekness, love, and obedience to God.
As a child and teenager, the other members of our small church family were important influences on me. The older members of our congregation had the Spirit of God with them when they spoke. Their kind and patient ways were noticeably different than the world around me, showing a “peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2).
I was taught many stories from the
scriptures. These often touched me and, looking back, I sensed that they were
true. I felt good when I read the scriptures myself, although I typically had
better things to do and simply didn’t bother.
I didn’t pray on my own. I didn’t disbelieve
that there was a God but I didn’t really believe it. And I certainly didn’t
feel his love, nor did I ever feel what I would call love for God either.
Sayings like “God loves you” just bounced off. “Everybody knows
that,” I would think to myself.
But I didn’t know it.
Gift to the Undeserving
Maybe you can relate to what I’m
about to share. Maybe in some way, God touched you whether you deserved it or
whether you were seeking him or not. Maybe, at the time, you didn’t recognize
it as such.
God reached down to me powerfully
twice when I was a teenager.
One day in church, after watching an
inspiring video about some story in the scriptures, I recall walking into the
hallway feeling touched and uplifted. I paused in front of a bulletin
board and looked at a picture of Christ surrounded by people in
old-fashioned clothes like the ancients might wear.
A pure spiritual light of
understanding entered my whole being as I stared at Christ in the center
of this picture. I wasn’t consciously trying to think of anything. It just hit
I comprehended that Christ was God,
the unchangeable God of the universe. I mean, I knew it and I understood
it. I comprehended that the trends and fashions and ideas of men will come and
go, but the wisdom and supremacy of God are unchanging. It was obvious why some
people were bent down in an attitude of worship. This insight was a gift
of spiritual light that filled me mercifully, with no effort of my own.
This gift entered my soul at a time
that I was behaviorally in rebellion against God and was giving him no thought
whatsoever. It was pure grace.
The next day I was supposed to meet
someone new—a large scale drug dealer—to buy a sheet of acid (meaning, a large
volume of LSD doses intended for distribution and sale). This was only one of
several drugs I was involved with. Getting caught selling hard drugs would have
changed the course of my life with a minimum of many months in a juvenile jail
and all that comes with entering the “system,” the stigma, and
dashing my parents’ hearts.
I stood there nearly in shock.
“What am I doing to my life? How can I do this tomorrow?” But I had
been panged by remorse before and it had only lasted a day or two and I went
right back into my double life.
Nevertheless, I never met with that
person. I don’t recall why. And I never pursued it again.
Unforgettable Witness of Christ
A few months after that incident, I
was getting ready to head out for college. I had been taught many times that
there are a few important crossroads in life that we’d better pay attention to
and make the right move: going to college, getting married, those kinds of
I recognized this as a chance to
reprioritize my life. So, I sought out one of our pastors for counsel and
began making small steps to get ready for a big change. Like the Parable
of the Lost Son, I was trying to leave the “wild living” behind and
trying to head back to the house of my Father (Luke 15:11-32, NIV).
This pastor asked my friend and me
to sing a duet during our last Sunday in church before leaving for college.
“Sure, no problem,” I answered. I didn’t think much about it.
The song was, “Abide with
There we stood in front of the small
congregation that we knew so well. My friend and I had decent voices and had
practiced a time or two and I wasn’t too worried about it.
But the strangest thing happened.
The sounds of the hymn became hauntingly beautiful, moving me to a different
place. I was filled with the sound of the notes as the words became crystal
clear on the page and full of significance:
other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.”
Suddenly, I couldn’t see well. The
words blurred as water filled my eyes. To my teenage horror, I was crying, on
stage in front of everyone.
But I couldn’t stop. Just like
before, the light that filled me was sweet and clear and so satisfying. It was
worth more than anything. I just kept reading and listening to the surreal
At that moment, I understood the
character of Jesus: the help of the helpless. The compassionate one who cares
when nobody else does.
The revelation continued, flowing
pure and sweet into my mind and heart. Again, I understood that God was the
supreme, unchangeable being—more important than any earthly thing. I tried to
sing but could only read the words and listen as my friend sung his part. He
kept looking at me like, “Whoa, what is goin’ on here?”
joys grow dim, its glories pass away; Change and decay in all around I see— O Thou who changest not, abide with me.”
It all made perfect sense. I was
comprehending the character of Christ, “who changest not,” and for
some reason he chose to “abide with me,” on that stage, in front of
the entire congregation.
Forward to Near Madness
Within one week of this precious
gift I was back to “wild living.”
I didn’t realize it but I was an
I’m not going to recount my entire life story here, but suffice it to say that my life went back and forth between long periods of no drug abuse with sincere strivings to live a godly life and occasional relapses.
My feelings regarding the goodness
of the gospel were real but I lacked the faith and understanding to truly live
the gospel of Jesus Christ. I had no real foundation.
At one point in 1983, I reached a
crisis of sorts. My efforts to live the gospel and keep the commandments of God
were not working. I was intensely miserable and confused. I decided the only way
to get past it was to start over again: forget everything I knew about God,
religion, and just follow my heart, make the best decisions I could, and see
where that would lead me. I didn’t know what else to do!
I stopped going to church and
stopped “keeping the commandments of God,” as such, although that
doesn’t mean my life turned into a hedonist free-for-all either. I treated
people decently, didn’t party, and did a lot of thinking.
“How could this happen?” I
often thought. “I had really tried to change my life. I tried to follow
God and ‘follow the rules.'”
After a year or so of this, I
suddenly became despondent. I was scared, in fact, at how gloomy and hopeless I
felt. I feared that I was losing my sanity and thought about taking my life to
I can still remember where I was
sitting and staring at the floor in this unstable, panicked state with no idea
of what to do.
A thought came to me: “Go see
Bob was a good friend, a former
spiritual advisor, and a man that I simply trusted. I felt a tiny bit of hope
and decided to do it.
Our conversation was intense and his
love for me was palpable and comforting. He said I was “hanging by a
thread,” which I felt was a truthful statement and didn’t take it as an
insult at all.
“You are in Satan’s
power,” he said, “and you need to cast him out.”
Hmm… Okay, so this was kind of
dramatic and not what I expected. A little crazy, to be honest. “Me? I’m a
pretty nice guy,” I thought. “I’m not like a Satanic dude or
anything.” I started to pull back from Bob.
“I want you to tell Satan to
leave you,” Bob said.
“Huh? How?” I asked.
“Say, ‘Satan. In the name of
Jesus Christ, I command you to leave me,'” Bob instructed.
I probably just sat and looked at
him. I don’t remember. But I do remember being frightened and feeling very
unstable. Not evil, but very confused and unhappy.
“Oh, great,” I
thought. “Me. Possessed.”
Could it be true? As crazy as it
sounded, I opened my mind that it might be true. I had a tiny, new hope.
As we parted that day, he hugged me
and just wept and wept and wept. I sensed that it was the love of God reaching
through him in hope and celebration for my willingness to try.
Reality of Satan
Writing this now, in 2018, I’m sure
that most people have not and will not ever experience what I’m about to
describe. But it was a reality for me and what I felt and experienced was
I learned what constitutes light as
I truly witnessed darkness.
I went home and awkwardly explained
to my mother what was happening to me and what Bob counseled me to do. I have
no idea how I broached the topic with her but somehow my mother and I sat side
by side on a couch and I decided to do what Bob advised.
I opened my mouth and verbally
commanded Satan to leave me in the name of Jesus Christ using the words above.
Within seconds, I felt a terrifying,
dark force pull away from me. The best I can explain it is that I knew it had
been enmeshed with me and now it was just a “few inches” outside of
me. It was menacing and extremely angry at what was happening and by no means
intending to stay outside of me. It was waiting for me to lose focus and come
But now I knew there was
“me” and there was “it” and I could distinguish the two.
I commanded Satan again. And again.
Always in the name of Jesus Christ. Over time, the line between us because
firmer and the distance greater. My peace and sense of self were forming again.
Truthfully, I had forgotten some of
these details until just a year ago when my mother said, “I sure know that
Satan is real, like when you cast him out as we were sitting together. What a
horrible feeling that was.”
From her vantage point, she had
experienced it as vividly as I had: an awful, frightening, threatening presence
in that room. I did not know (or recall) that she felt it that way until she
shared her memory of it with me last year.
In the weeks and months that
followed, I continued to tell Satan to leave me in the name of Christ, as
Two things were certain and beyond
The evil force I felt was real. Satan was an actual entity and not just a concept.
The name of Jesus Christ has real power. Satan was enmeshed with me but he could not disobey the command to leave, in Christ’s name. I had been given a tool that worked 100% of the time and that was enormously reassuring.
How Christ Found Me and Cared for Me
I’ve listed just a few episodes in
my life where Christ reached out to me to teach me, inspire me, help me
understand the truth, and save me—even when I was doing little or nothing to
seek him out.
I can’t say that I found Christ. I
prefer to say he has been watching over me all my life and finding and touching
me, according to his own wisdom and ways.
He gave me sweet and loving parents who shared their testimonies of truth lived godly lives to the best of their understanding.
He gave me the examples of other church members whose sincerity and willingness to love God first was real to me, even as a boy.
He gave me light and understanding as I read scriptures, participated in church activities, and that one eventful day in front of the bulletin board.
He gave me the freedom to make decisions and figure things out on my own but he was always watching for my return. At the first sign of turning, he ran to me like the father of the lost (prodigal) son and whispered the idea to call Bob Johnson to help me.
He kicked Satan out of my life like the mighty God of the universe that he is. All I had to do was invoke his name, which always has power.
Christ Finds and Cares for You
I know that our Christ reaches out
to every living soul on this earth in ways that are suitable to that person.
Take just a moment to reflect back
on your life. Who were the people that were good examples in your life? It
might not have been your family. What were the experiences where heavenly light
and understanding called you to something higher and helped you understand the
things of God? Maybe you appreciated it. Maybe you didn’t.
All of us have been touched and
called to something higher. Through somebody. Through a life experience.
Through the Spirit of God directly to our souls. But every living soul feels
the fingers of God reaching down. But will we take that hand?
When did you hear something or read
something that touched you? Maybe you felt an impression like, “I can do
more with my life; I can turn away from these destructive things in my
life,” or “God really is there and he wants me to listen and trust
Those inspired impressions are from
God. When we say, “I want to please God and keep feeling those good things
more than my destructive, sinful past,” we are moving toward Christ.
I Came to Christ: Believe in the Name of Jesus
My troubles weren’t over yet,
however. Confusion returned frequently because other than knowing how to get Satan’s
power to release me, I didn’t really understand what to do next.
I recall telling people, “I
feel like I have no foundation. I’m walking in quicksand. I don’t know where to
For someone who had attended church
for most of his life and had read the scriptures many times over this seems
ludicrous, looking back, but so it was. I found that there’s a difference
between knowing from the head and internalizing from the heart. But I did find
my way to Christ.
I recall a certain day when I was
staring at green, patterned carpet in a different bedroom, trying to figure out
what to do next.
Because I knew the Bible well
(meaning, I had made some good decisions in the past to invest effort and try
to learn the ways of God), a key phrase popped into my head:
is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ.” (1 John
“Just believe in the name of
Jesus Christ,” I repeated to myself. I didn’t know Jesus as a man. I
had never seen him. But I could just believe in his name. I mean really
put my whole heart into it. I could decide to trust this Jesus Christ.
“Just do it,” I recall
But oh, it was hard to do.
I had many atheist friends who
poo-pooed the idea of believing the unseen. Their faces and voices in my mind
made this a spiritually terrifying decision.
But one thing I knew for sure. I had
factual, first-hand, experiential knowledge of this: the name of Jesus Christ
has power. “So why not believe in that name,” I reasoned.
“Perhaps more good will follow?”
I then received another merciful,
beautiful insight: Into my mind’s eye came the John the Apostle and John the
Baptist. I pictured Peter and Paul. I felt them saying, “We gave our everything
to give you this knowledge. Believe it. We love you. Believe in the name of Jesus.
I felt in my heart that these dear scriptural friends were just and holy men. Real people. Worthy of my trust.
The Pivotal Decision: Jumping in
with Both Feet
Sometime in 1983, I made that great decision. I opened the faucet of belief in Jesus Christ and the water of life began to trickle into my life. I could feel the difference. What the scriptures call “salvation” was happening for the first time in my life. (See Acts 16:30-33
I often said in my mind—and still do
to this day—”I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe He was sent from the
Father. I believe He is the Messiah. I believe Jesus Christ is the very Son of
God.” These thoughts and intentions fill my heart with light and happiness
There is power in believing. We should never underestimate the power of believing on the Light of the World.
Today, I am grateful and thrilled to tell you that—praise
and thanks be to God—I am truly happy. Genuinely, deeply happy and at
Giving Tuesday is the day after Cyber Monday that traditionally is slated by non-profit organizations to encourage charitable giving. Indeed, many people all around the world need hope—from the poor and needy, those in prison, those starving for love and affection, those struggling with a mental or physical illness, and many others. Today, I want to celebrate hope-givers and encourage all of us, me included, to be hope-givers ourselves, and, in so doing, give a bright future to the people in our world.
As you may already know, I have had about a twenty-five year struggle with depression. However, even in my darkest pit, God always provided people to give me hope that I could come out of the pit, more victorious and alive than ever before. By listing these people, I have the hope that in your own struggles, that you will be encouraged that there are people in your own life that will also give you the hope you need at the right time. I also want these people to know that they are important and that they have made a difference in my life. Here are some of the following people that gave me hope when I needed it the most and how they provided it for me:
My parents and brother: They were there for me during my toughest times, and did their best to support me through it all. They always encouraged me to never give up, even when I wanted to. Because of their persistence and love, I was able to come out the other side of depression a stronger person.
My mentor J: She always encouraged me that I was not the stupid, not-good-enough, failure I had imagined myself to be. She always saw the best in me, and encouraged me to never put myself down, especially for things beyond my control.
My friend Veronica*: Once when I was having intense suicidal thoughts and was visibly upset, she was able to convince and encourage me to see hope and joy again in my life. Also, because she has so much joy and hope in her own life, while still being real about her struggles, I have been inspired to follow suit.
My friend Holly*: Holly has always given me hope that I am not alone in my struggles, and she always has words of validation and encouragement, even when she herself was experiencing very difficult things in her life. Her unselfishness, along with her uplifting words, helped me to know during the tough times, that there was always hope for me.
My friends Anna* and Karen*: Karen and Anna have always been there for me as good online friends, who have encouraged me through the tough times, and shared with me the good. Their honesty about their own struggles in life and how they have persevered through them, have given me hope that I, too, could come out victorious over my depression and other issues in life.
My manager Elizabeth*: My current manager always gave me hope that even when I mess up or feel insecure, she has my back, and she believes in my abilities as an associate and as a person.
My manager Chris*: Chris was the one that gave me the opportunity to work at my current job in the first place. He also has believed in my abilities as an associate and as a person, and has encouraged me to work diligently and wisely.
My friend Laura*: Laura has encouraged me to see me how God sees me. She gave me hope that even in the dark throes of depression, that she was willing to be there for me when I needed her the most. One time, when I was particularly struggling with self-hatred, she had sent me a most precious forward about the beauty she saw in my heart with her caption “This is you.” I will never forget that.
My pastor John*: My pastor was instrumental in helping me redeem a work relationship that I thought was past redeeming. God used him to do a work in my heart, and the relationship I had at work was reconciled.
How To Give Hope
Giving hope is not only about giving encouragement, though it sure may be a very important element in it. Giving hope is about looking at someone and seeing the golden nuggets in their soul, like most of my hope-givers have done for me. Hope-givers see what those who have despaired or lost hope are blind to—the beauty in their soul and the hope in their futures. For example, I have several friends who are unable to work. The world may see them as lazy or useless, but I see them as those who still can give others encouragement and perseverant, as they wake up each day fighting the illnesses that try to defeat them.
Giving hope is about being a shining light into someone’s life, when he or she feels alone or forlorn by others. Sometimes, I have felt that way during certain situations, but my friends Veronica and Holly have always encouraged me by making me feel less alone. All my hope-givers have helped me find the light in my soul and helped it to shine. We, too, can be the shining light into someone else’s life that desperately needs it. We can do this by being there for them whenever possible, by helping them through their pain, and by speaking words of hope and positivity into their lives. Saying things like, “I’m sorry you are struggling so much today, but I want you to know that I am here for you, and you are not alone, “can make a whole world of difference in a person’s life.
Giving hope is also about being hope in their lives. For instance, my manager Chris, not knowing me as a person yet, took the chance and gave me the opportunity to work at my current job. Had he not given me the chance to work where I am now, I don’t know where I would be today. He gave me hope of a new opportunity to shine. Also, my mentor J, gave me hope by helping me find work and giving me the tools that I needed in order to get out of my rut of depression and hopelessness that I had felt for years. I try to give hope myself by sharing my love for others through my writings and also helping them feel valued and encouraged through thanking them when I see the positive difference they have made in others’ lives, including mine.
When we give hope, we give life to others. Who around you is dying for love and hope today? Maybe be there for them and give them the encouragement that they are still valued and needed, because being a hope-giver for them could save their lives.
*=Names have been changed for privacy of the individuals mentioned.