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Series From 2014: When cancer struck my pastor (Part 2)

I am re-posting this series from 2014:

I feel that it is very important that I tell you what is going on in our church since our pastor was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I feel very strongly that I ought to keep you informed of how Tom Craig, his family, and our assembly has responded from this.

Well, the obvious thing is that we continue crying. The hurt is still within us, and many are still dealing with the shock of having a dear, dear friend face this monumental struggle.

We’re all weak people, and although I suppose we should show a brave face in all of this, the fact is that we are a sensitive group. This might seem odd, given the fact that our congregation is based in Oak Ridge, Tennessee and chock-full of engineers, physicists and researchers. You might expect a hardened, emotionless lot, but you’d be wrong. The folk are tender and caring.

The next thing I note is that Tom is losing still more weight. I estimate that he has lost fifty pounds since January. He’s having to get new clothes to fit his form, even though he is eating regularly. “The cancer is eating my food,” he told us Sunday morning. “I have a monster within me, and I am continually feeding it.” It was necessary for him to leave church early in order to get home and get more food inside him; hanging around after the service was not an option.

“I’m going to take chemotherapy in two weeks,” he said. “The doctors have given me six months, but I’m not going to let my body obey what it’s heard. I’m going to continue on and aim for more than six months.” He is going to be officiating at three weddings this summer; two of them are his own daughters’.

Tom looked down at the podium and coughed lightly. His voice has been sounding raspy, but this was tipped with emotion. “On the very day that the doctors gave me the news – told me that I had pancreatic cancer, that it was terminal – I came home that afternoon. I needed to break the news to my family. Well, it seems that Fed Ex had been to my home a little bit earlier and had delivered my daughter’s bridal gown to the house. When I opened up the door, there stood my daughter, wearing the bridal dress for her upcoming marriage this summer.” We all wept openly. To have to relay the news of your terminal cancer on one of the most exciting days for your daughter – well, this seems to borderline on outright cruelty.

Tom is dying right before us. We are fervently praying for healing, but the fact is, we are right now seeing the man wasting away before our eyes.

But not getting weaker. Not wholly.

His messages, his demeanor have taken on a new dimension. How can I best describe it? It’s developed an eternal perspective.

After we finished singing congregational songs, Tom stood before us with a sharp focus in his eye. “Let me say something about how I now participate in the song service. I have sung like I have never before. In fact, I have prayed like I never prayed before.” And for that matter, he is preaching like he’s never preached before.

Simply put, the man’s messages are amazing.

Take last night, for example.

Tom gazed at us as he expounded on Luke chapter 7’s story of the woman who poured the perfume of the alabaster box on Jesus’ feet, wiping and weeping as she did so, continually kissing His feet in gratitude for His salvation given to her:

“These are shameless acts of appropriate adoration. It brought about a level of discomfort in that Pharisee’s room, and to the stiff people it is uncomfortable, you might say shameless – but Jesus would say appropriate. It is worship with unguarded gratitude and praise…”

“Folks, our problem is that we measure our worship, it is so guarded… The woman engaged in this act was not following the culture of the day. This was not part of the culture, washing feet like this… Non-stopping kissing… Letting her hair down, women did not take their hair down, flowing tears….continual… she came in to the home with a calm and measured thank-you, no doubt, but she couldn’t hold back and broke out in emotion…This is spontaneous! She did plan the visit, stood behind him, yet this weeping was spontaneous…”

Then Tom gave us the grand view of why the woman was so passionate: she had been forgiven by Jesus. And so have we. Completely forgiven by Jesus by what He did on the cross and in His resurrection.

I put down my notes and sat amazed at the depth of what he was bringing. Was it deeper in doctrine than from the four decades of preaching I’ve heard before? No, not really. Is it because he is spending more hours in sermon preparation than he has before? That’s not it, either.

It is really because of the gift of cancer.

Let me explain.

Tom has been given the vision so few pastors have ever been given. He’s facing eternity but allowed to call back over his shoulder. Do you know what he’s calling back to us? His new perspective.

And, oh, is it amazing.

He’s applying 2 Timothy 2:2 as I have never seen a person apply it. He is committing his Bible teaching – from this heightened view – to us Christians so that we may relate these truths to others.

And that’s what I am doing to you right now. I am passing on Tom’s words. I will try to do so from now on.

It’s as one other minister shared with us: A Christian’s suffering is a two-sided coin. Think of the teaching in Job chapters 1 and 2 and you will see what I mean. On one side, God builds. On the other side, Satan destroys. It’s up to you to choose which coin face you want to see.

Well, brother, Tom has chosen the God side.

So, in a sense, we are all seeing cancer as a gift. Tom has taken on this mountain of cold, life-wrenching horror and allowed God to bring a flower through its detestable cracks.

If there is any chance for you to come to the city of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to our intimate congregation at Oak Ridge Baptist Church, please do so. You will hear messages from a man with a perspective that you may never hear again.

And, praise the Lord, he describes it in a way you will never forget.

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