When cancer struck my pastor (Part 3): Cancer has spread through the whole church
I am re-posting this series from 2014:
As I had shared with you last week in this blog, the pastor of our church has aggressive pancreatic cancer and the diagnosis is that his cancer is terminal; he was told that he has about six months to live. He starts chemo on Wednesday.
What has happened since last week? Well, would you believe that what Tom Craig has done is spread that cancer through the whole church. We’re all affected.
He spoke to us twice on Sunday, and it was evident that he had lost weight from the previous week. Tom’s cheek bones now stand out prominently and his eyes have a sunken look; it seems as if his glasses are too big for his face. A benevolent individual had bought him a brand-new suit, since he cannot fit into any of his old clothes, and the new clothes enhanced the physical change he has undergone since the pancreatic cancer told hold of his body. His shoulders are angular, his legs are spindly-thin.
He said: “As your pastor, I have been a shift manager. It just may be that there will be a change in shifts. This is your church, not mine. Be ready for the change in shifts.”
Tom’s energy rides and dips at times. During the singing, he had to sit and gather his strength, and between services the assistant pastor snuck him a small bowl of fruit in order to give him the needed push for the main service.
And in the midst of this, he’s infecting all of us.
By that, I mean, he’s let us in on his thinking. He’s pushed our church community beyond the initial emotional devastation of seeing cancer rear its ugly head. He’s leading us in the reality of Psalm 23 – through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and showing us how to hold Jesus’ hand as we do so. He’s taking the fear and sorrow away from us and showing us how to continue on.
In a sense, Tom took off his glasses and handed them to each of us, to see the view of eternity and what Jesus wants us to do, should cancer take our pastor. Oh, what valuable sights he showed us when we looked through his glasses:
“Look at Rom 8:29 and incubate this thought – ‘For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son.’ God created everything He needed in His existence. Why did he create you and me? To be conformed to Jesus so that we can have a great fellowship with the Father…”
“Where is this congregation headed? It takes personal ownership and investment…”
And the stunner: “If everyone in this church was as Biblical as you are, how Biblical would this church be?”
The church members are not sitting and sobbing anymore. Yes, of course, we let a tear shed more than once, but now Tom has shown us that this cancer is not a washed-out bridge with no continuation, that we must find an alternate route. We must move on, and help each other – both inside and outside the church – promote the Kingdom of God, our final destination:
“Yes, your missionary work is to be done, but as I said, it is not a project or a seminar. It is personal, which is how mission work should be. Now, if everyone in this church was as personal in their relationship with Jesus Christ and to others, how missionary would this church be?”
Tom is not aware that I write this blog about him, so I can be brutally honest: He has shown us the courage that we’ve only read about in old journals and time-worn Christian periodicals: the bravery of the Christian facing death. The first characteristic we witness is in Tom not reflecting on himself, but causing us to reflect upon ourselves. In the light of eternity, what is your mission for Christ?
“What is your mission at church here today? Let’s say I was on a battlefield, on the American side. If I grabbed an Army Ranger right before he boarded a copter, and I asked him what his mission was, he wouldn’t have any problem telling me. He would be able to tell me exactly what he is doing, where he is going … could you tell me your mission here at church today and for the future?”
“This congregation must not only enjoy Christ, but show His glory. Churches that use their people to build machinery to make their attendance grow are a dime a dozen. This church must understand and point to the supernatural. The supernatural is life-changing. In 2 Corinthians 6 God says that He will be your God and you will be His people … that He will be a Father to you and you can be His sons and daughters!”
“Listen, if you truly want to be a disciple of Christ, just convincing your self that you want to be a better Christian, be a little closer to Christ is not enough. In the first century the rabbi had his class of students follow him and be with him 24 hours a day. They were not learning to be like his teachings – they were learning to be a rabbi. So it is with us: we are not to learn to be like Christ’s teachings, we are learning to be like Christ Himself, 24/7!”
His mouth became extremely dry, and he asked one of the men for a glass of water. Then he said:
“When you sell out, you go counter-culture. You’ll go against the culture of the day.”
I grabbed this final statement. The profoundness gave me pause.
The culture of the day wants us to cringe and quake at the thought of death. We will not do that.
The culture of the day wants us to slobber in a narcissistic overly-emotional pity, reflecting on ourselves and how bad we feel. We refuse to do that.
The culture of the day wants us to give up, leave the church, and find a new avenue of happiness, diverting our eyes away from something so unseemly as death, since the general belief is to celebrate life on this earth.
Today’s culture does not understand – has it ever? – that we Christians are resolute in caring for a fellow Believer in his (and his family’s) time of need. The indulgent attitude of today cannot lift its eyes to the meta-physical and transcendent, and wonders as we Christ-followers pray and act in preparation of the life beyond this one.
Our pastor is showing us marvelous things. We’re peering through his glasses and seeing that the future is indeed bright. As for now, we have some work to do, to show the route to the Kingdom to others who do not know the way. And we seek to become more like Christ every day.
Cancer’s filthy. It’s stinking. It’s wretched.
It’s opened our eyes.
We’ve all been exposed. Thank God for the new sight brought on by this infection