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When cancer struck my pastor (part 11): The Gentleness of Cancer

This is a reprint of the blog I wrote about my pastor and dear friend Tom Craig, who succumbed to cancer back in 2014:

Pastor Tom wasn’t supposed to show up at church today.

I had talked with assistant pastor Bobby McCoy on Saturday and asked about Tom’s condition. Is he responding to the chemotherapy, and would he be teaching at church on Sunday?

“He had a rough week,” said Bobby. “This is a much more aggressive form of treatment, and it was hard on him. No, he will not be able to make it tomorrow. We have some guest speakers filling in, but no, Tom will most likely be trying to recover. He is fatigued and doing a lot of sleeping.”

So you can imagine the surprise when he came down the aisle in the beginning part of the service.

Oh, he had to be helped. He walked slowly on the arm of one of our church leaders, his back erect, his deeply-set eyes gazing around the auditorium as he walked with effort. Paul gently escorted him down to a seat in front, placing him carefully at the front of the auditorium. When Tom arose to speak he needed the microphone to project his voice; there is simply no more physical strength left in his speech. Each word is a concerted push from the chest, each sentence reminding me of air being slowly left out of a balloon. Tom had each phrase carefully measured, and he fought a noticeable slur. I could see Tom getting fatigued with each new thought. His sentences ended with something near to a sigh.

This, however, made his message tender. Yes, that’s the word I feel best fits Sunday’s message from Tom: tender. The effect on his voice has by no means make him sound weak; it’s made him sound gentle. Every ear in the auditorium strained to hear this clear and simple message.

You could tell Tom was regarding his opportunity’s limitations. He only had a few minutes’ worth of talk before he would reach the limits of his energy.

He adjusted the handheld microphone and met our eyes.

“Let’s get clean before the Lord.”

Simple message. Strong application.

“We think over the Psalm 51 passage that was just read by Gene. The psalmist King David said ‘create in us a clean heart, Lord.’ So, what is it we do as we enter a church service like this? What is our responsibility?” He paused.

“To offer a clean heart to the Lord.” He gestured slowly and deliberately. “Take me and use me and let me please You, Lord. But… a problem. I want to give you my heart, but it’s dirty. It has pride and other things that are prohibiting my proper worship of You.”

“So now, ” Tom looked at us, blinking his deep-set eyes and reaching hard for a breath, “I want you to take time to pray out loud to God for a clean heart. Ask Him to give you a clean heart. This is the time to ready yourself for worship. I’m going to ask you to bow your heads and let’s pray.”

In the silence of that auditorium I heard one of the most powerful paragraphs of prayer in my memory.

“You conquered death, Lord. We call you Lord. You are Lord of all life. You are also Lord over all death, because death cannot defeat You. You will never be conquered. This is Your day.”

As he was gently escorted back down the aisle I meditated on what the Lord had inspired Tom to say.

This is Your day, Lord.

These words coming from a man who has every right to think of every day as his day. His day for healing, his day for quiet, his day for dealing with pain and fatigue. Yet against all presuppositions, Tom gathers his strength and readies himself to join us for a few minutes of worship service.

Because he feels he needs to be seen? No.

Because he needs the company? Not that either.

Tom is showing by example that no matter what the circumstance, this is the Lord’s day in all honor, respect and love. The Creator delights in our worship of Him no matter what our condition. He drapes us with love in any circumstance. Tom is leading us in that teaching.

This is Your day, Lord.

Isn’t this an amazing oxymoron? Cancer and cleanliness don’t belong in the same sentence. Cancer is dirty and disgusting. It’s crude and filthy. There’s nothing clean about it.

…or maybe there is.

We are being awakened to the need for cleanliness. Above all service and outward activity, we must be clean within. That forgiveness comes from Jesus and that joy comes from the Lord. I am reminded that the angels surrounding Isaiah wore six wings – and how did they use their wings?

Two covered their feet. They didn’t want to show uncleanness before a holy Lord God.

Two wings covered their face. They were respectful and in awe of a holy Lord God.

Only two wings were used for flying.


over two thirds of their energy was used in honor of God’s holiness.

At this scene Isaiah realized how unclean he was, and he begged to be put right before the Lord. We are seeing the same challenge to our lives. Clean before the Lord.

Tom’s message was short. Its meaning is long. His ministry is still as powerful as ever.

When I am weak, then I am strong…

God bless you, Tom. Get some rest, now.

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