Charming the Cobra…

Titillation is the feeling we experience when actively seeking forbidden pleasure. It’s is the anticipation of a tactile reaction that can only be experienced when; we have given ourselves over to a force that could easily destroy us, yet: somehow, we escape unharmed. Seeking the thrills with none of the consequences.

As a foolish teen, my brothers and friends tempted traffic as we would run across I-65 and hide in the median and then race back over the interstate where our friends waited and would cheer our “courage”. It is amazing a semi-tractor trailer didn’t crush us into a grease spot on the highway, but the “high” one felt from cheating death was undeniable. Our pulse quickened, my eyes became alert and it is the only way that I could explain what it was like to do a mind-altering drug. It is an appropriate metaphor, drugs and running in front of semi-tractor trailers.

No doubt if you watch any type of dangerous sport, auto racing, motocross, skydiving, bungee jumping etc. you will see people who; without exception have become hooked on the thrill of cheating death. I don’t judge these people, but I realize that the need for excitement, even danger, is ever-present and actively sought for by many. In many ways, those who seek the elixir of thrills are very much like those who charm cobras

Even though cobras do not possess the ability to hear the music charmer, they are nonetheless hypnotized by the pungi that the charmer waves in front of the serpent. While it is illegal these days in India and across eastern Asians countries, earlier charmers in decades gone by, placed their lives in danger in order to charm a cobra for payment. The cobra considers the pungi as a predator and follows the pungi closely. The performance before a crowd gives the spectators the experience of danger and they pay the charmer handsomely for his/her courage, but many times it is a sham. Most charmers have pulled the fangs or sewn the cobras mouth shut so that only it’s tongue protrudes.

These days, the lust for a thrill causes us to seek cobra holes that we know are dangerous, but where the stakes and odds seemingly lean in our favor. Many don’t consider what I am going to describe as dangerous at all…but they are filled with venom and their bite will result in death as surely as the cobras. I am not addressing those who are of the world and do not believe or follow Christianity… I am speaking of Christians.

For those who have promised to give Jesus control of their lives and then have become enslaved to playing around the cobra hole of immorality and sensuality, confusion comes quickly and who we are in the sight of God is no longer clear. The serpent is coming to strike and we cry out for God to deliver us, all the while, mowing and clearing the path to get to the cobra hole easier. We become self-deceived as we begin to convince ourselves that God understands our weakness and makes allowances for it. But He does not. The construct of being able to live in sin while following Jesus is just that… a construct, and mental image that goes directly against the Word of God.

They start innocently enough. A casual look at the skirt in the next cubicle. Imagining that he understands you better than your husband and beginning to “admire” the man your co-worker appears to be. It begins with allowing your mind to wander so close to the cobra hole of an affair that you begin to obsess about it…and before long…as a man thinks…so is he. That’s because in humans there are two creations…the first what we construct in our minds, like an architect; and then, building the house. Speculation becomes the drawing board upon which we bring the abstract into reality…where we create from a mere thought the cobra hole that summons us to come near.

For the first few visits, the hole appears abandoned with no serpent in sight. This is the bait with any of the cobra holes we play around…adultery, pornography, deception, revenge. As soon as one has worn a trail to the cobra hole, whatever it may be, the trap snaps shut! “They promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves of sin and corruption. For you are a slave to whatever controls you.” 2 Peter 2:19 New Living Translation. The New American Standard Bible says it in a different way…” for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved..”

For those who have promised to give Jesus control of their lives and then have become enslaved to playing around the cobra hole of immorality and sensuality, confusion comes quickly and who we are in the sight of God is no longer clear. The serpent is coming to strike and we cry out for God to deliver us, all the while, mowing and clearing the path to get to the cobra hole easier. We become self-deceived as begin to convince ourselves that God understands our weakness and makes allowances for it. But He does not. The construct of being able to live in sin while following Jesus is a just that… a construct, and mental image that goes directly against the Word of God.

Let me tell you the consequences I received from playing around those cobra holes.

I used to live as a missionary and pastor. I traveled to foreign countries and speak two foreign languages. I used to sing ( yes, my fellow classmates in Columbus, I was so ashamed of being able to sing that I hid it from everyone…) I led praise and worship both in Portuguese and in English. I was part of a worship team that monthly sang over a satellite network. I once wrote a song in Brazil that swept across the nation and that God used mightily to bring others to himself. I once had the full trust of my former wife and children. Then I gave in to foolishness and went headlong into adultery. Here I was, a recipient of so many of God’s gifts, and this is how I repaid Him. It wasn’t just a one-time thing, but I will not go into it. The point is that I got bit playing around dangerous places…and my friend, so will you.

Do you know why I no longer pastor? Wonder why I don’t sing any longer? The Bible tells us that the gifts and calling of God are not able to be revoked…in other words, God will not change His mind about them, but He most certainly can and WILL restrict how they are used. I’ve had many say I should go and begin a church, but the truth is, the Lord has forbidden me from doing so. There are consequences for our sin my friends. We don’t think about those consequences, but they are real. While Jesus paid the price for the eternal consequences of our sin, there are some results we cannot run away from here on earth. For years, I was heartbroken by the realization that my own actions hurt my family and resulted in limiting my effectiveness for the Lord. God will not be mocked, and while I am forgiven, the Lord has made it clear that I may no longer be an established pastor in a church. I am not saying that God will require the same of others, but He HAS required it of me…

You may say, “Well, God would never tell you not to minister his Word!” I didn’t say that. In his great goodness and mercy, instead of teaching within a church; which is my gifting, the Lord granted me permission to write. This is why I write today. My zeal for the Lord continues, but the consequences of my sin restrict where and how I may do it. I now sit in my home in front of a computer instead of standing and teaching. It is a daily reminder of what my sin has cost me. Even though the Lord is slowly healing my relationship with my children, what I put them through is still painful in my heart and mind. I have never told this story publicly and I pray you will not judge me too harshly, but the Lord seldom does things for a singular reason.

He did not just create the Sun to heat the earth, but it is also a display and a metaphor of His glory. The sun also is the principal agent in the process of photosynthesis, by which green plants and some other organisms use sunlight to synthesize foods from carbon dioxide and water. Photosynthesis in plants generally involves the green pigment chlorophyll and generates oxygen as a byproduct.

Again, God seldom does something for a singular purpose.

And so, it has been my observation that when God teaches a lesson to us in life, it is seldom a lesson only for us. All things are made and used by God to demonstrate His goodness, His greatness and, His glory…even His discipline in our lives. My discipline from the Lord can become your lesson. You can learn obedience from my former disobedience. Even though this happened decades ago, like Jacob, I walk with a limp. I am free and forgiven and am full of joy, and I am thrilled to still be used by the Lord. But, do not tempt the Lord my friends…stay away from the cobra holes that beckon you with promises…there is only death there.

A different kind of graduation…

When I first met Morrie, he was a loud-mouthed, foul talking, irresponsible braggart. We were 13 years old and he and I went to school together. He always talked dirty about girls. Of course, at 13 we didn’t know anything about girls, but Morrie said he was experienced. At times he would say things out loud and was cruel with his comments toward them. We all would kind of stand far away from him when he did this… I was embarrassed.

We went on school field trips and Morrie would always brag about how he could beat up any kid and was mean to the weaker boys in our class. As time went by Morrie was involved in a lot of mischief at school. He was caught stealing things or sneaking out of school when he was supposed to be in class. I stopped hanging out with him; as did other guys I knew. When we were in High School, Morrie became more sullen and angry.

When the day of graduation came, Morrie gave the peace sign as he walked across the stage and right before he lowered his hands, he quickly changed it to flip off the crowd to a few giggles. Afterward, while families took pictures of their kids, I saw Morrie walking away, pulling off his cap and gown, wadding them up and throwing them in the back of his car. He started the ignition and drove away…and that was the last I saw of him.

Over the years that passed, the memories I had of Morrie were the ones I had from 14-18 years of age. As we all do, I made a lot of judgments about him and resented some of the things he did to me and had said to me. Whenever I would run into classmates and his name was mentioned, none of them would make any comments except to roll their eyes and say, “He was trouble”… I did too.

After 20 years I went to my first, class reunion. I had lived too far away to come to the first 2 but at 20 years I finally went. As I arrived; I was so happy to see so many of my old friends. We caught up about what each of us was doing and I was a little shy about talking to people. I had been pretty outgoing in High School, but I hadn’t been the nicest guy either. I spent a lot of time mentioning to people that if I had treated them in a bad way that I was sorry. They were all very gracious to me. I was grateful.

I was tapped on the shoulder by a guy in a nice sport coat and jeans. I turned and said hello. I didn’t recognize him. He smiled and said, “It’s me, Morrie!” I’m ashamed to say this but I’m sure he could see my face register dread. I tried my best to smile and make small talk. Morrie smiled again and said, “It’s okay pal, I know I didn’t leave people with a very good impression during my school years.” He told me he had been convicted of a few petty crimes and had spent some time in jail. He said it was the most horrendous experience he had ever had.

I listened as he told me of being beaten by a group of men who thought he was a loud-mouth and showed him he wasn’t so tough. He said he had to pay $10 a month to a jail hitman to keep him from breaking his arm or leg. When he got out of jail, he said he had to live in his mother’s house until he found a job as a plumber’s assistant. He said during his time in jail and on days he was standing knee-deep in sewage helping the plumber, he would remember his misspent time in school. How he wished he had done differently but realized his circumstances were due to his poor choices.

As time went by, he became certified as a plumber and then a master plumber. He moved to Iowa and began his own business. He met and married a wonderful woman and became a Christian. When he had heard about the class reunion he decided to come back and ask forgiveness from the people he had wronged. He spent the entire evening going from group to group, person to person, re-introducing himself and asking forgiveness for his poor decisions from school.

One by one, just like me, Morrie won back some respect and as I saw him walk toward his car and drive away…but this time, there was a bounce in his step and a smile on his face. As soon as he left, the chatter was low but it was all about Morrie. Some said, “I don’t believe it…I think he was lying”. Others said, “Wow, what a difference! He is truly a changed man.” But I could tell…just looking in Morrie’s eyes, this was a man who had seen the depths of his own soul and met Jesus there.

He was quiet when he spoke, not bragging as in the past and he took care to not exaggerate any of the details. He corrected himself if he felt he had misspoken about something in his story. As he had turned to leave me that night, he had said, “I should have been a better person and a better friend, and I hope you will forgive me.” I had embraced him and given him a hug. He had a tear in his eye and thanked me for my forgiveness. Morrie didn’t make it to the next reunions, and I haven’t heard from him since.

I had held Morrie in jail for 20 years before I saw him at that reunion. Lots of things had changed in his life, and I feel bad that I looked crestfallen when I first saw him that night. But it made me realize how many people we hold in prison in our memories. People can change. People can become completely different over time and even though it’s natural to recall someone’s bad behavior in the past, realizing that God is active all over the world, we shouldn’t be surprised when the Morrie’s of our lives show up transformed.

That’s Jesus for you. With everyone he meets, he changes them…the man lying by the pool of Siloam, the woman with the issue of blood, the thief on the cross…and me. If you have done things in your past like me and Morrie and live your life in prison with regret, there is someone waiting in your prison cell who is with you…wanting to change you. That night, on my way home, I couldn’t seem to remember anything that Morrie had done badly in school anymore…it was like God made it all disappear. Somewhere along the way, Morrie had gone through another graduation, but his time, his cap and gown were intact, and God was taking pictures…