Series From 2014: When cancer struck my pastor
I'm reposting a blog I wrote about my senior pastor Tom Craig, and the weeks to when he finally succumbed to cancer after a 12-week battle. His testimony was amazing. Please read and see what I mean. This is the first of a series I wrote back in 2014:
I wanted to write about the mission trip to Salinas, California, but I cannot seem to concentrate. I must tell you something else first.
I received crumbling, crushing news. Please let me explain.
On Sunday I arrived home from California, having flown on red-eye flights from San Francisco to Chicago to Knoxville. I left San Francisco at 11:30 p.m. Saturday and flew through the night, unable to sleep because of a nagging restless leg syndrome I’ve had for years. After layovers and delays, my wife Jill picked me up at the airport around noontime on Sunday, and I fell back into the van seat, happily looking forward to catching up on much-needed sleep.
It was a wonderful week, working in the Hispanic community; I’ll tell you all about it in a later post. God moved gently and mysteriously, as He always does, and I have great memories of a powerful week in seeing the Lord take over and change hearts. Back in Knoxville, however, fatigue had caught up with me, and I needed to recuperate. Just before I headed to the bedroom, I checked my iPad for any emails that may have come in whenever I was on my flight.
A fellow church member wrote me with the news.
In the church service that morning, our pastor Tom Craig – fifty-two years of age – had informed the congregation that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“It’s covering my pancreas,” he said. “It’s covering my liver. The doctors said I have six months to a year to live.”
Jill and I sat in the bedroom and cried. And cried.
My very good friend Tom is dying. He’s leaving us.
No. This cannot happen. He’s younger than me.
Isn’t there something we can do?
God, You can heal Tom. He has a wife and children. Two of his girls are getting married this year. This is a time of joy, not of grief…
The afternoon went by in a blur. I finally fell into a fitful sleep and when I woke, I prayed that it had been a bad dream. It wasn’t. This is reality, the here and now. Tom has cancer.
We stumbled into the car and drove to church for the evening service, silent and deep in thought as we drove along Pellissippi Parkway. Everything around us looked different. Bleak. Harsh. So temporary.
We entered the main auditorium and spoke with one another as we went to our seats. Friends shared words of grief, shock, but mostly confusion. We were all still trying to process this.
Tom came up to the podium. I leaned over and sobbed. This was too much for me, too heavy a burden to watch this man, this good friend and spiritual mentor face this trial…
Then he spoke.
Oh, my did he speak.
“I’m going to be in the pulpit as long as I am able. I want to be here and share with you as long as I can.”
“Just as it says in 2 Corinthians 4, we have our bodies – these treasures – in earthen vessels, so that the excellency of power may be in God, and not of us.”
“When Jesus is questioned whether he is authentic, He welcomes the scrutiny, and tells the questioners to consider the miraculous work he has done. It was more than words – it was what He did.”
He spoke gently and sincerely from Luke chapter 7. I sat tearful yet fascinated. Tom was speaking from the perspective of a man who very well will be in Heaven’s corridors before the next calendar years roll in.
Are you grasping this with me? We listened to a man standing at the edge of eternity and sharing Scripture with us. There is no embellishment. No ad-libbing. No anecdotal self-promotion. This was raw, pure, from-the-heart gut-check belief in the God of the universe.
I arrived home and got on the internet, finding the church’s podcast. I listened to his morning’s sermon, when he first announced he had pancreatic cancer. I listened to his tears. I heard his love for the Bible and for God, and the reverence pervading the whole message. I replayed it again and again. I will replay it again today.
Please understand – the Lord may freely heal Tom and restore him to full health. We are all praying for that. But right now God has given Tom the eternal perspective of being a man given what few men have been given: the knowledge of his impending step into the Afterlife and the right to share his deep-down core beliefs of Jesus and eternity. And the Bible. And Heaven. And, thank God, salvation.
It’s brutally honest. It’s painfully clear. It’s no-nonsense.
These two messages are the best messages I’ve ever heard. Ever.
I’m listening to a Christian balancing on the cliff of mortality and looking back to us, saying, “It’s okay. It’s good. Jesus is here to catch me when I fall.”
In today’s world, this is the message that should be shared with each and every person.
When we are safe in Jesus, we are more secure than we could ever be.
I'm going to write about Tom's journey toward Heaven. Every week.
Please pray for Tom’s healing. Pray for his possible recovery.
But most of all, pray that his messages continue to grow and change each listener. Jesus is as real and vibrant and I’ve ever seen with a preacher. This is life-changing for all of us.