There once was a boy, or so the story is told, who went for a hike in the woods. He came upon a group of youth, about his age, gathered in a circle. “C’mon over,” they invited. Tentatively he walked toward them to notice that each one had a small animal looking thing. It was tiny, furry and friendly, crawling over the one who was obviously its owner, nuzzling and purring. He stepped into the circle. Introductions were exchanged. He stared at the animals until one boy laughed and said, “You’ve never seen one of these before, have you? This is a “nis”. See, on the side of each are the letters, n, i, s. It’s a wonderful pet, easy to care for and it makes you feel incredible. Here, hold one.” With that the boy reached into a box, pulled out a black and white nis and handed it to Charley. It was furry and had a long body. As soon as it touched his hand it crawled up Charley’s arm, on to his shoulders and laid across his neck. “It likes you,” one of the girls in the circle squealed. Indeed, it did, purring and content. Truth was that Charley liked the nis, too. As it laid across his neck it radiated a warmth that started at Charley’s neck, ran down his back and legs, through his arms. Charley felt good, very good. The warmth lulled him into a twilight relaxed state. There was something about this nis,” thought Charley as he sat down to join the others in the circle.
When Charley returned home that night he took the nis with him. Every day it would curl up quietly in a corner until Charley came home and every evening he would spend time with it. He didn’t have to feed it, it found food for itself and it seemed to draw energy from their time together. As the days went by, the nis grew. Soon it stretched from one arm to the other when it lay on Charley’s shoulders. It still sent good shivers through Charley but he could feel the weight growing, not uncomfortable, but certainly noticeable.
One day Charley was so busy that he didn’t spend any time with the nis. The next morning he awoke to find the nis crouched 2 inches from his face, with a purr that sounded much like a wheeze. Strange, thought Charley. He had never heard that sound before. He picked it up, placed it on his shoulders to realize that it wasn’t quite as warm as before. Throughout high school the nis comforted and seemed to help Charley.
As the days moved on, the nis continued to grow. Instead of lying in a corner, it would bother Charley in the morning as he prepared for work, it would greet him at the door when he came home, it would follow him throughout the evening constantly crawling on to Charley’s shoulders whether he wanted it to or not. As the nis grew heavier, it also grew colder. In fact, it seemed to suck energy and warmth out of Charley instead of putting it into him. The nis became ever more demanding. It was staring Charley in the face when he awoke, when he ate, when he read, whenever he did anything. And it seemed to be losing its soft fur and the once alluring purr was sounding more and more like a hiss.
Charley didn’t know how it accomplished such a feat, but one Tuesday he answered the phone at work to hear a hissing calling his name. He thought it was a crank call and was about to hang up when he to recognized that sound. No, it couldn’t be, he thought. He listened. It was, but how? This creature was calling him at work. As he listened he felt the weight of his nis upon his shoulders though it was not there and they sagged. Every day the call would come. Sometimes several times a day. His production decreased, his mood declined, his relationships suffered.
A couple weeks later, having awakened, washed, shaved, and eaten to the stare and hiss of this animal, he headed for the door looking forward to the privacy of his ride to work. In front of the door stood the nis, blocking Charley’s path. Having grown to the size of a Labrador, it was impossible to step over. Charley walked to the back door, but the nis raced to block it. To the side door, the garage door, the same. When Charley tried to push it out of the way, it bit him. Charley was not seriously hurt, but shocked. This was not what he had brought home so many years before. “Just this once I’ll stay home from work with you,” said Charley, thinking perhaps the nis was sick. All day it lay around his neck, sinking him deeply into the couch.
The next day the nis attempted to block Charley’s way. He knew he could not stay home from work so he resignedly placed a leash on it and took it with him to work. Though no one seemed to notice or perhaps care, it was a pain to have the nis at work. It went wherever he did, staring and hissing and weighing him down. Charley’s productivity, already declining from the impact of the phone calls, nose dived with the thing actually at work. Yet he couldn’t get out the door without it. At the end of the week Charley’s boss pulled him aside. “I don’t know what’s going on, son. You used to be such a good worker, but lately, well… If you don’t pick it up, I’m afraid we’ll have to let you go.” So that was it, the nis was going to get Charley fired.
And as for relationships, that was a bigger problem. Charley’s friends had at first thought the nis was cute, but as it grew and began to hiss, they refused to be around it. They feared it and warned Charley it was taking over his house and his life, but he didn’t believe them. Some of Charley’s other friends had their own nises. They, too, had discovered they couldn’t get out of the house without theirs. And his girlfriend had long ago given him an ultimatum. He hadn’t intentionally chosen the nis over his girlfriend. It was just simply that as much as he tried, Charley couldn’t part with it. So alone he was. With his nis.
Even on Sundays, when he went to church, it was there. Charley would try to leave the nis at home, but it would somehow, always go with him. It seemed to especially bother him there. Charley would try to listen to the sermon or lesson or words of encouragement from a friend, but the hiss would get so loud he couldn’t concentrate.
He was thinking about all this, how his life had not gone as he had imagined and how the nis was the source of so many of these problems when he felt the nis on his shoulders and strangely around his neck. When he reached up to his throat, he realized that instead of draped across his shoulders, it was somehow wrapped several times around his neck, getting tighter. Instead of fur he felt scales. He looked to his right, where the head of the nis would always lie purring. It appeared to be changing. Like a strobe light that flashes, one second it would be the nis he always knew and the next second be a creature he had never seen before. Beady eyes, a split tongue flipping in and out of a scaley mouth, and somewhere to his left rattles. Then back again to the soft, warm, furry, black and white pet that he loved and added so much to his life.
“Charley,” hissed the creature. “It’s over. It’s time to take you home.”
“What was happening?” Charley moaned in terror. “The nis is my friend, my companion, my strength. It is so small, so soft, so gentle, so delighting, so invigorating. How could it be changing into something ugly? How could it have taken over my life, my relationships, my work, my everything?”
“Oh, I’ve not changed,” hissed the creature. “You’re seeing what I’ve been all along. Now I am fully in control Its time for me to take you to the other side. Nothing can help you, you are mine!”
“NOOOO!” Charley screamed in confusion. “Someone, anyone help me! Isn’t there anyone who can rescue me?”
At that moment the front door burst open. Calmly an unassuming man, dressed in white, walked in surrounded by a group of people also dressed in white. Gently, but firmly, he said, “Charley, this creature has been ruling your life for a long time and you didn’t even realize it. You’ve been unwilling to see it? Do you realize it now?”
“Yes,” said Charley meekly.
“Charley, I can rescue you, free you from this creature. But more than rescue you, I offer to treat you as a son, provide for you, make your life what you were created to be. Look at these people with me, they are free and you can be like them. Do you want that?”
“Yes,” choked Charley, the pressure increasing around his neck.
“Charley, listen carefully. If I rescue you, you must surrender your life to me forever. No more playing with this or any nis. Are you willing to do so?”
“I guess so.” Charley mumbled, more focused on the nis than the man’s words.
“NO. Charley, look at me. You must make a deliberate choice to serve me. Will you?”
“Yes, but I don’t see how I can do that.” Several of the folks in white walked to Charley, put their arms around him. “We didn’t think we could do it either, but it is possible. Just surrender. And we’ll help you.”
“Charley, one more thing,” continued the man in white. “You must be willing to allow me to destroy this creature.”
Charley balked. He remembered all the times they had together, back in the early days when it was small, and soft, and made Charley feel so good. Maybe it would be that way some day again. Surely it wasn’t as bad as it looked right now. Maybe it was just having a bad day, or maybe it was sick. We could have those good times again, couldn’t we? Charley vacillated even as the nis squeezed tighter and tighter.
“Charley, look at your nis. Hear the rattles. Feel the hiss. It is evil. It does not love you. It has deceived you all these years, waiting to control your life and eventually murder you. There is nothing good in it. It only wants to destroy you, now and forever.”
The man in white waved his hands over Charley’s eyes. As he did, something like rose colored contacts fell from his eyes. Charley looked, saw the nis, really saw it, for the first time saw it. He saw the ugliness, felt its grip around his throat, smelled the stench of its scaly body. As the light of understanding came on, Charley realized that the nis was moments away from killing him.
“Charley, you must hate this thing and surrender yourself to me.”
“I do,” he cried.
“Charley, the nis must die. I know you are unable to kill it. That is why I’m here. I only need your pledge to me and your permission and I will kill it.”
“Yes, yes, I surrender. Save me.”
With those words still hanging in the air, the man in white grabbed the creature with amazing strength and lifted it from Charley’s neck. Oh, the freedom in that moment. Freedom he had not experienced in, well, forever. He felt safe and loved and light hearted and giddy and so many things that he couldn’t describe. What wonder!
In the exhilaration of rescue he had almost forgotten about the man in white. Finally Charley glanced to the right to see the man lifting the snake. For a moment it appeared he would dash it to the ground. Instead, he draped the creature around his own neck. Without resistance the creature wrapped itself around him, choking, squeezing. The man dropped to the floor in agony, yet did not resist. The creature continued to squeeze until there was no more life. Charley was in shock. How could this be? The man was so strong. He saved Charley, he could have saved himself. Fear began to grip him again. With the man dead, surely the creature would return to do the same to him.
Frozen, Charley could only watch. The nis did not move. In fact, it could not. It was as if the murder of the man by the nis had also taken its life. Both lay still.
As he stared at the man and creature in an awful heap, he noticed for the first time in years the letters on the side of the animal. The letters long ago pointed out by the youth in the circle. They were different. From this angle, with the light of understanding, in the freedom granted Charley by the man’s sacrifice he realized that the letters were not “n, i, s”, at all. Rather, they were “s, i, n.” Sin. It was not a nis, but a sin that had lured him, manipulated him, controlled him and nearly destroyed him. The man in white had taken Charley’s sin, wrestled it, and died to set him free.
Still staring, suddenly the man in white sat up, threw off the sin, smiled at Charley. Scars from the attack circled the man’s neck. “Deadly, nasty, horrible creatures, those sins. But not deadly, nasty or horrible enough to destroy the Son of God or those who surrender to Him. Now, let’s experience the life I have for you.” With that He put His arm around Charley’s neck and gently guided him away. When his Savior’s arm touched Charley’s shoulders, a strange thing happened. A warmth radiated into Charley’s neck, across his shoulders, down his arms and legs. But instead of lulling him toward twilight, it filled him with a keen awareness of life and reality. In that moment Charley realized that the warmth of the nis/ sin was a counterfeit of what he was experiencing now.
Every day Charley sees the creatures. Every day Charley hears the whisper of invitation again. Sometimes another type of nis, often the same breed as his. Sometimes the whisper is nearly overwhelming. But when he looks up, into the face of his Savior, the power comes to walk away from the invitation and into the warmth He provides. Much to the anger of the creatures.
"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." Matthew 6:24 (NIV)
"Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." John 8:34-36 (NIV)