I wrote on April 9, 1999, when I was still in high school: “I wish I could be more […] effervescent (lively). I feel dead without being physically killed. I hope I don’t die emotionally, but I am dying. If I could only find that zest, that greatness life is supposed to hold. But where is it, at least in me?” I had no hope. I was fine physically, but I was slowly dying inside.
I’m thankful that I didn’t die or take my own life. Though I didn’t know it on April 9, about one year later, I would find Hope. Hope that helped me through the storms, and come out on the other side being greeted with a beaming joy and confidence that I had only dreamed of years before. Hope has also given me drive to persevere, even when I thought I could never make it. Hope has redeemed relationships that I thought were forever shattered. Hope has taken the junk in my life, and made it a treasure.
Hope was, and always is, Jesus.
Hope has given me purpose to live. Before I became a follower of Christ, I was living aimlessly, for myself. I had adequate material things, but I never really thought about blessing others with it. I wanted to excel academically, but that was getting more and more difficult, and my limitations were becoming more apparent.
With Jesus, I have realized that the world is so much bigger than me. With Jesus, I am able to partner with Him to share His great love and hope for a world that is looking for something bigger than the pain and the drudgery that life often brings.
Hope has given me a light at the end of the tunnel. I still struggle with depression occasionally, but now even in it, I have hope that God will bring good out of even that. I have hope, because God’s strength and light will help me overcome a depressive episode. I have hope because God has surrounded me with a group of people who love and care for me.
Hope has given me renewed confidence and joy that I had never known before. Since I found Hope, He has provided me with several communities of believers who have had my back and who care for one another. This support network I have had has helped me through some of the toughest times of my life, and even helped deliver me from some really bad situations.
Hope has provided me with my current job and some great managers, including several that believed in me enough to help me learn new things. I want to give a shout out to my now-former manager Elizabeth* who believed in me enough to allow me to train to be a back-up cashier and learn some managerial tasks as well. I want to give a shout out to my now former manager Chris* who took the chance and first hired me.
Hope has provided me a great mentor, in J, who always believed in my abilities and was God’s message to me that He would use me to accomplish His great will in my life.
Hope has provided me countless wonderful friends who have put up with my depressive episodes and have helped cheer me on.
Hope has given me much hope for the future. Hope has given me freedom from the shackles that held me back in my past.
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 on me.
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.
Growing 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.
A 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 me.
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.
An 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 things.
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 Me.”
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 sounds.
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.
Fast 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 addict.
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 escape.
An Inspired Friend
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 Johnson.”
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.
The 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 undeniably real.
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 back.
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.
Good Overcomes Evil
In the weeks and months that followed, I continued to tell Satan to leave me in the name of Christ, as necessary.
Two things were certain and beyond dispute:
- 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.
How 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 him.”
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.
How 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 start.”
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:
“This is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ.” (1 John 3:23, NIV)
“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 thinking.
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. Do it.
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 and power.
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 peace.
After reading this experience, I hope it’s clearer why I have invested so many years writing a book, preparing a website and launching a prison ministry to support others in coming to know Christ and discover how to believe in him.
See reviews of the new release, 5-star book, Jesus Christ, His Life and Mine on Amazon. including these:
“. . . a breath of fresh air. . . very modern and easy to understand for my generation. (Ethan – Facebook review)
“If there were six stars, I would give this book a six” (vtreviewer – Amazon review)
“. . . transformative, faith-promoting, and educational. . . [The author] succeeds masterfully on all fronts. (Joshua – Amazon review).
–written on November 24, 2018
Don’t let the fire inside you die
Don’t let others tear down your soul
Don’t let them kiss your dreams goodbye
Or make you feel like less than whole
Because you are worth more than gold
Even if no one told you so,
Though you do not fit into a mold
You’re beautiful from head to toe
Become all you were meant to be
Be full of compassion and love
So that people will finally see
The gift you are from up above
Everyone who has ever lived will go through at least one experience that will influence the trajectory of their lives. I am no exception. Several days ago, I was talking with some work friends about how each of us was like when we were children. I attested to them that how I am now is almost nothing like I was when I was a child! Yes, there are still a few similarities to my personality today, for I am the same person, but there has been a lot that has changed as well. The experiences that I feel changed my life the most are these:
- Becoming a born-again Christian
- My brother moving away
- Getting my current job
If you have read my blog for very long, you know that I am a born-again believer in Christ. This event has by far influenced and changed the person I am and has given me much purpose in my life. Right before I became a Christian, I was on the brink of despair and depression. I wanted to end it all, but right at about that point, I felt God’s presence and the need to know more about Him. I started attending my childhood church, but quickly found out it wasn’t a good fit for me, and eventually found another church that more satiated my spiritual needs. In the past two years or so, I believe God led me to my current church, where I grew significantly in both knowledge and closeness to God. Being a Christian has not only helped me to overcome most of my depression, but also improved the way that I relate to others. When I was younger, I used to be very rigid and selfish. In addition, since social cues have been sometimes a challenge for me, I didn’t know what exactly I was doing wrong! This led me to feel very lonely and depressed. However, when I learned about God’s love and how to cultivate a more unselfish lifestyle, that is where I learned the value of sacrifice. Thus, God was able to bless me with great friends that I didn’t deserve and, most of all, joy in my life.
Another event that changed my life is my brother moving away for school about two years ago. Up until then, my brother has always lived with me, or if he lived somewhere else, he would eventually always come back home at least on the weekends. Now, that he lives in another state, I have been forced to be more active socially. I am in several online support groups, and I am more active at my church. A more negative thing of having him move away, though, besides not being able to see him as much as I would like, is that if I need help with something that has to do with technology, I either have to handle it myself, or contact him via phone or Skype when he is available. Since he is often busy with his life, this makes fixing technological and mechanical problems in the house much more difficult.
Yet another event that has changed my life is getting my current job. Before my current job, I was not working full-time, but only part-time. Not only was my current job graciously offered to me, but about seven months later, I was able to get full-time! Since then, I have learned so much from all the people that work there. Most of my managers have been very gracious and kind to me, and they have taught me so many things about my job and how to do it even better. They have also helped me be a better person. I now have the support of many of my co-workers and they, too, through their unique personalities and work styles, have taught me a lot about life and work. Most of all, the managers and many of the associates as well, have believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. This has helped me to be motivated to do my job even better than before and has given me the confidence that I need, in order to continue to learn new things and do a good job.
These are the three experiences I believe changed my life the most. Of course, many smaller events also have influenced and changed me, but these ones have had a tremendous impact on my life. What experiences have changed your life the most? What did you learn from them? Please feel free to share in the comments below.
-poem written: 10/17/2018
In a world of darkness and pain
Where they treated you with disdain
You were reaching your very last rope
But, in me, you saw glimmers of hope
God sent me to show you His love,
Agape love from up above
The one that would never leave you
The one that would show itself true
I, too, was a sad, lonely soul
Looking for someone to make me whole
In God, I found a love so true
The love that’s now shining in you
There has been so much turmoil, hatred, and division in this world. People are being torn apart—both physically and emotionally by these wars waged against one another. Maybe you are in the midst of a relationship today that has been torn apart by the spirit of deception, abuse, anger, and/or betrayal. Maybe there is a family member who has deeply hurt you, or maybe it is a co-worker or classmate who has bullied or hurt you in some other way. Whoever has hurt you in life, whoever you may have hurt, and whatever may have caused the rift in one or more of your relationships, there is always hope for restoration if both parties are willing to do the hard work of repairing them. Here are some of the essential ingredients that must be present in order to have a true restoration in a relationship with another person:
- In order for a relationship to be restored, one or both parties must apologize for their part in the rift and/or forgive the other person for past hurts done to him or her. –A relationship cannot be restored if one or both parties still have bitterness and anger against the other. Moreover, not only does holding grudges and being bitter prevent relationships from being restored, they destroy one’s other relationships as well because there is a barrier to transparency that develops with bitterness. Also, the party that wronged must sincerely apologize for his or her offense, in not only words, but also by changing their actions and/or making amends. They must aim to seek restitution and restoration with the other party that they wronged, and not have an entitlement expectation that the offended party will do something for them in return.
- In order for a relationship to be restored, one or both parties must demonstrate humility to the other.—Being humble means not lording the hurt that caused the relationship to break apart over the person that offended you. Being humble also means owning your part in the rift, even if it is just your response to the person that hurt you. Yes, it probably wasn’t your fault that your offender hurt you, but your response is. As my pastor has repeatedly said, “Your response is your responsibility.” Don’t lay blame on the other party for the rift, even if it was primarily their fault. Placing blame never restores relationships, but forgiveness and humility do.
- In order for a relationship to be restored, we must forsake selfishness.—If we still are thinking, what will I get out of restoring this relationship, you are not ready for restoration. We must do not only what is best for us, but for all parties involved. We must do what we can to uplift and encourage the person in the relationship. In fact, when I was having a conflict with someone, one of my pastors said exactly this. In other words, we are to love those we consider our enemies, or those with whom we find ourselves in conflict. This means not only saying nice things about them, as opposed to mean and nasty things, but it also means a willingness to help and support the person with whom we had a rift. When we show that we are willing to sacrifice ourselves, most people are willing to open up to us again. I am not saying for us to let ourselves be taken advantage of consistently for others’ selfish pleasures. In that case, we may need to set some boundaries. However, we must be willing to serve them in ways that truly will be beneficial to their emotional and spiritual well-being.
- In order for a relationship to be restored, we must be patient.—We must remember that complete change and restoration does not usually occur immediately, but over time. We must be willing to wait for the relational trust and love that we had before the rift happened to be rebuilt. Even if it takes a really long time, we must not give up on the relationship if we want it to be restored. We must be willing to work hard at restoring and renewing our relationship for the better.
When we incorporate these four elements into restoring our broken relationships, with time, most of them can be restored. Though it does take both parties for a relationship to be truly and fully restored, we must strive to do our part to be agents of reconciliation, especially with people who we interact with regularly. Yes, there are relationships that may not be able to fully be restored because of abuse or other things, but we must not let those broken relationships rule how we conduct our other relationships. However, when we are agents of reconciliation and restoration, we will make the world a better place.