From drugs & despair, he found deliverance & discipleship
EDITORS’ NOTE: The following story is part of a monthly Baptist Press series to explore and describe how individuals, churches, associations and conventions exhibit a passion for Christ and His Kingdom.
NEW BERN, N.C. (BP)--Having smoked countless joints, swallowed a Quaalude or two and drunk noxious amounts of Everclear -– a 95-percent alcohol beverage -– Steve Cobb left the Saturday night party and, amazingly, drove home.
Upon reflection, Cobb counts it a miracle that he was lucid enough to drive. That night was the beginning of the end of nearly a decade of drug and alcohol abuse that began when he was 14.
Cobb’s high school had a designated area for cigarette smokers, and that’s where he came under marijuana’s sway. An older teen confronted Cobb to make good on his bragging about smoking dope. Finding a secluded place, the two teens got high.
“A scary thing happened to me that day,” Cobb recalled. “I got stoned and I liked it.” Peer pressure and the desire for acceptance pushed Cobb to try marijuana, beginning a nine-year span that led Cobb to more serious drugs and eventually to contemplate suicide.
Cobb is careful to explain that his home life was good, or at least his parents made every effort to make it such. His father gave his children many hours of individual attention and took time for family outings. His father passed up lucrative business opportunities to be at home more often, and Cobb’s mother quit a well-paying job to be a stay-at-home mom.
In his tenure as a pastor, Cobb has seen “the children of good parents turn bad, and the children of bad parents turn good.” Other than selfish sin, Cobb says he has no full understanding of why some kids turn out the way they do.
Cobb withdrew from his parents, as adolescent drug abusers do, and rebuffed all overtures from his dad. Even after Cobb left home at age 18, his dad would send cards of encouragement, trying to keep lines of communication open.
“He would tell me how much he loved me and that he believed in me,” Cobb said.
But Cobb chose delirium over devotion.
Cobb’s dad was just the opposite; he was prayerfully passionate. During the last five years of Cobb’s binge, his dad would stand up in every Wednesday night prayer meeting to ask folks to pray for his sons, for Cobb had introduced his brother to drugs, and Mike was hooked as well. Cobb’s dad also asked men and women who lived at a retirement home to pray for his sons during their regular Bible studies.
“Once a week, at least, they’d call Mike and me by name,” Cobb said.
The prayers finally worked.
As Cobb drove home from the party, he told himself, “If this is all there is to life, then I’d be better off dead.” Little did he know that he was but hours from ending such a life and embarking on a new one.
“I was trapped in a situation I couldn’t get out of,” Cobb told Baptist Press in a recent interview. “My life was tail-spinning out of control.”
Cobb arose the next morning, suffering from the literal sickness of his sins yet somehow remembering that his dad had asked him to go hear an evangelist who was preaching at a church in town.
“Every time my dad and I would meet, he’d tell me to go meet this guy, Ted Stone,” Cobb said. “But I wasn’t ready for all that Jesus stuff.”
Stone, who recently died, had been in prison for armed robbery and attempted murders stemming from drug addiction. Upon his release from prison, Stone rededicated his life to Christ and became an evangelist, telling any and all who would listen how God had cured his addiction and changed his life.
Despite his hangover, Cobb went to hear Stone. “I got desperate. I needed to talk to somebody.”
As Stone recounted his life and preached, Cobb remembers thinking: “This drug addict shot a man and went to prison. Look at him now. Surely, if God can fix that man, God can do it for me.”
“It wasn’t so much the message,” Cobb says, recounting that he walked down the aisle at invitation time. “It was what God did. He just broke through.
“I remember asking, ‘Does God offer anything for me in the hell I’m in now?’”
That was in December 1981. Twenty-five years later, Cobb has heaven on earth.
“I can’t believe I’m in a job and getting paid for something I love to do,” Cobb said while sitting in his newly constructed pastor’s office at Temple Baptist Church in New Bern, N.C.
In late June, Temple Baptist Church moved into its new facilities, eight years from when Cobb became pastor of the church, then with about 150 active members. For the inaugural service in the new facilities, more than 1,800 people were on hand.
Cobb credits Stone for much of his success, for it was Stone who met regularly with Cobb to disciple him. And it was Stone who recommended Cobb to Temple in 1998.
“When I got here, the facility was run-down, the stained glass was falling out, and the bushes needed trimming,” Cobb said. “But God told me: ‘You worry about building the people and I’ll worry about building the church.’”
That’s what Cobb did -– to the extent that Cobb said some of the members began telling him: “You’ve told us we’re great for so long; now we’re starting to believe it.”
Growth was slow and steady, said Cobb, who says he was committed to acknowledge God’s sovereignty in building the church to where it is today.
From one of the church’s earlier renovation programs led by Cobb, the members learned about and adapted to the Christian growth process. There’s always a crisis of faith that challenges God’s people to trust Him, the pastor said, noting that Temple Baptist members “just believed God would do what He said and they adjusted their lives to what He wanted them to do.”
Cobb is also intent on Temple members understanding that God’s Kingdom is not someplace in the sweet by-and-by, but it is at hand.
That’s why the church auditorium is named “Kingdom Resource Center.” “It’s our job to teach others how to live in the Kingdom of God now as apprentices to Jesus Christ,” he said.
It’s OK with Cobb that some others see the church as leaning toward discipleship, for he notes that the Great Commission is two-thirds a discipleship mandate: baptize and teach.
Cobb is passionate about two negative trends: nominal Christianity and postmodern relativism.
Nominal Christianity, he said, is so “epidemic that, barring a reformation from God, I’ll never see its cessation.”
“The primary emphasis of the Gospel is not to get you out of hell and into heaven to get near Jesus, but to get Jesus out of heaven and into your life -– all aspects of it,” Cobb said. He has a burden for those who “make a childhood deal with God” but forget all about it until the near-end of their lives. “Unless Christ touches the totality of our lives, we have no message,” he said.
Those who claim to know Jesus Christ must realize that earthly things will pass away, and only what is done for the Kingdom of God will last, Cobb said.
Regarding postmodern relativism, the pastor lamented that while the world may not always denigrate God’s Word, it doesn’t believe the Bible is worthy of serious consideration for its truth claims and substantive meaning.
Cobb, however, is far from hopeless. He’s thrilled that church members want him to focus on studying and preaching. “They want me to lead and feed,” he said, smiling.
He also voices hope for the spread of the Kingdom: “I believe that, under the proper circumstances, God will do for any church what he has done for Temple.”