A year and a half ago in 2022, CJ Bolen walked into his first Discipleship Equipping class at the Midtown location. His hope was to grasp one or two things. Theology and apologetics seemed overwhelming and, in the past, way over CJ’s head. Feeling anxious, he walked in the room and sat down, trying to keep his expectations low. What happened in the coming weeks of going to the Christian Story class, and the people and curriculum God placed in front of him, forever changed CJ’s faith and life.

“That class opened my eyes,” CJ said explicitly. “Prior to going, I knew if I am going to be a committed follower of Christ, it can’t just be Sunday mornings. I needed to continue to learn and grow outside of Sundays. The class helped me with reading the Bible daily, to slow down and just to spend ten minutes on one verse or an hour on a chapter. To sit in silence and listen to the Lord and to give the Lord a chance to speak to me. With the classes, some people listen to respond and others to understand. I wanted to read to understand. I wanted to slow down and process. It was all new and I knew it would take some diligence and time.”

At that time, CJ was a new believer just having been baptized that August after giving his life to the Lord the year prior in 2021. Growing up, CJ was brought to church weekly by his mom. CJ always felt he had to push boundaries, especially with how people thought of him. He took pride in what people thought of him. After high school, CJ joined the marines and experienced the world for four years. He did not return to church.

“When I left active duty in 2018, I was bitter at the world,” CJ shared. “I went back to college; the environment was not what I was used to. I felt like people should give me respect and appreciation because of my military service. I wasn’t getting that. I was short tempered. I was involved with numerous relationships that were dead ends. On the inside I was trying to patch things together, but I was spiraling. I couldn’t be authentically myself and thought the world would judge me. I hurt a lot of people by taking advantage of them and slandering them.”

CJ found himself a very lonely man after a relationship that ended and a never-ending addiction with gambling and smoking marijuana. He was trying to escape himself but instead, the shame only grew. One night in March a few years ago, CJ hit rock bottom. Contemplating suicide, a trusted friend that he knew from childhood called CJ out of the blue that night.

“She called late in the evening and was concerned and felt something was wrong,” CJ confessed. “The tears were running out of my eyes. I had just apologized to my dogs that I had to leave them. My friend asked, “Is everything ok?” I said “no” and I asked her to come help me. She came over and introduced me to her brother-n-law who was also a marine and experienced a lot of the same things as I experienced...the bitterness, losing friends, the loneliness. My friend then asked if I would consider going back to church. I laughed, and thought ‘are you kidding me?’ I’m a drug user, gambler, I just tried to kill myself and I don’t know if I would be welcomed. Very calmly, she said, “would you please consider it?” and left it at that. I promised I would.”

A few weeks later, by himself, CJ came to a Sunday gathering at the Midtown location. He didn’t know anyone and sat in the back.

“I started to listen, and I remembered at that gathering, Pastor Joe getting up on stage,” CJ said with excitement. “In front of everyone he said, “Church, do you ever feel lost?” I thought it was just Joe and me in that room. The Holy Spirit brought everything to light that I couldn’t put words to. It was the first time I heard the gospel and it affected me. It drew something out of me and made me want to keep seeking the answers to my questions.”

CJ continued coming to church but not connecting with anyone. A month passed and a young adult connect night was announced. CJ felt another nudge and showed up. Immediately he met a few guys at the front door.

“They talked to me in the most authentic and genuine way I have ever been treated,” CJ said. “It was like we had been friends forever. It was profound. Afterwards there were tables with City Group lists and I came across one and went over to get more info and it was the same guys I had met at the front door.”

Over the course of a year, CJ joined their City Group, joined a Huddle, and started to understand his need for God’s Word and the Body of Christ. One of the guys he had met at the young adult night, David Carlson, became a mentor and a true friend. It was David that asked CJ early on if he wanted to give his life to Christ and prayed with CJ as he accepted Christ as his Savior. And it was David who baptized CJ the next year and encouraged CJ to go to the Discipleship Equipping class.

“Finally, whatever that black cloud was that I lived with my whole life, was lifted,” CJ exclaimed. “The seed that God planted just continued to grow. My love for His Word, my love for God’s grace and need for it. His mercy, every day, continued to grow and made me want to learn more about Him. It fueled a fire in me to want to know Him more.”

That first Discipleship Equipping class not only opened CJ’s eyes to God’s truth and a desire to know Him, but it also provided a community that CJ needed and craved.

“The class introduced me to Godly men,” CJ said. “That was pivotal because that is what I aspire to be for others and for my future family. I want to be a leader of the house. It gave me an opportunity to connect with people. I now have an older gentleman I meet with and who has walked with the Lord as long as I have been alive. It’s been a blessing. He mentors me and points me to Christ, he holds me accountable, and shows me how to be patient, courageous and self-control as a man.”

The first Discipleship Equipping class, Christian Story, was just the beginning for CJ. He continued by attending the next two classes as well as the Men’s Bible Study that meets at Midtown and West throughout the week. CJ cannot imagine doing life without not only a Church to go to Sunday mornings, but most importantly studying God’s Word and doing it in a community of believers throughout the week. God used it to save his life and encourages others to do the same.

“The number one thing I would say is that you owe it to yourself to find answers to all the questions,” CJ said. “Find out why you are uncomfortable and lonely. We were born and made to live in community. We are not made to do life on our own, so we need someone to help us, to live life with. Through the people in the Church, I have people praying for me, and to call when there are hard times or a death in the family. When I am tempted to go back to old ways, I have someone to call. We are not strong enough to do it on our own. To just power through and do it on our own, the self-made approach. We need people to help us.”

“Also, don’t be afraid to go to them. To go to the Discipleship Equipping classes or Bible studies. We are all there to learn and understand the Word of God. Regardless of where you are in your journey. If you just take one or two things from going, that’s a win. Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. I have found that the most growth we have as Christians is when we do. It’s uncomfortable, but still do it. Even when it’s hard, or you feel lethargic, frustrated, apathetic, or even if you feel good now, keep showing up. You are not alone. The classes have also empowered me in my daily life. Having scripture memorized helps to cope in times of distress, understanding the Gospel clearer makes sharing it that much more enjoyable. I have a stronger foundation for the times when my faith is tested than I ever have before.”

God saved CJ through His son Jesus Christ and there’s nothing CJ needs to do to earn his way back or toward heaven. The lies CJ believed and lived out, along with the suffocating black cloud that engulfed CJ, have been removed and replaced with an overwhelming sense of freedom and peace. He knows he is not alone now. He knows he has love and support from brothers and sisters in Christ. He knows that God’s Word through learning it, reading it, studying it, and sitting with it, is life changing and forever.

To join a Discipleship Equipping class or a men’s and women’s bible study, visit citylightomaha.org/equipping.

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