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When cancer struck my pastor (Part 4): We are embracing cancer.

Tom spoke Sunday night, and we could see how he labored to do it.

He was weak, so he gave his entire sermon while he was seated. Earlier, he had approached the pulpit chewing small bits of a granola bar in order to have the necessary energy to talk to us. Numerous times during the message he had to sip water – I’m told the chemotherapy “dries you out” quite a bit. On occasion he lost his thought; once he stopped and wrote something down in order to remember it later on.

I’m not saying he viciously battled his way through a sermon, but it was obvious that this sermon delivery was a challenge for Tom.

He’s thinner than last week. His features are more angular, and I noticed that his shoulders are pronounced, almost poking through his shirt. His movements are slower and more measured.

But Tom’s word have had a rallying effect on us. The Lord has forged every sentence coming out of Tom’s mouth into a vibrant reflective thought to each listener in the auditorium, and it’s gradually becoming evident that we are shedding the trauma of this situation … and becoming more than listeners. Let me back up and set the Sunday scene…

The morning assembly started with some folk sharing their thoughts and feelings after Tom had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Assistant pastor Bobby McCoy told us that at the time of Tom revealing his pancreatic cancer, our church seemed to have just settled into a comfortable routine.

“Everything had been going so well, and we were getting cozy. Things were falling into place.” Then Bobby noted that when Tom shared the news, everything went upside-down.

Why the sudden change? Our leader and spiritual mentor was going to leave us. This didn’t seem fair. At the very least, it was depressingly confusing.

Bobby became reflective. At first it brought the negative part of Psalm 77 to mind for him: “Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favorable no more?” But that didn’t last long, he said – God was moving among us, as the latter part of the very same Psalm told us the purpose of such hurt: “This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High. I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old.”

His words rang true to us folk – it was true, we were really getting “settled in” – getting our feet planted solidly on the ground.

And then this.

You know…

… it’s just what God wanted.

For us to get our feet moving again.

Okay, God, but in what direction?

Toward Him. Toward His service. Away from complacency.

Tom spoke that evening. Luke chapter 9 was the home base text. He would lay out how we are to start running the bases. First, he told us, you must get in the game in the first place. “I want to stop right here at the beginning, and to have you bow your heads and quietly talk with God. Let Him know whether you are willing to become a disciple. Then we can move on.”

Indeed, we did move on, right through the chapter, and the beautiful simplicity of the plan of learning to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Tom explained it to us in measured terms. “Look at Luke 9:23. One of the great contradictory statements of the Bible: If you want to gain your life you lose it. And look at verse 25 – ‘what is a man if he gains the whole world and loses himself?’ Look, Luke wants to present a high, high standard of discipleship. Jesus said ‘If you want to be my disciple it will be very hard. It’s simple, but hard. And it starts with the will. Will you do it? Look at the chapter and see how many times the word ‘will’ is used.

‘If any man will come after Me’ in verse 23

Verse 24 ‘…if you will lose your life for My sake…’

Verse 57 ‘I will follow You…’

Verse 61 ‘I will follow You…'”

Tom explained that Jesus repeated this theme in chapter 14. “It’s a high standard of intensity. We play around at small chunks of discipleship, wanting to do this but maybe not that… doing this but not wanting to do that. We think our struggle with discipleship is a WANT TO, but Jesus never asks about the desire. He simply says that if you WILL. It’s simple. Just say I DO and let’s get moving.

“In the first century, discipleship meant that you committed to go with a teaching rabbi 24/7 intending to be more than a mere student. Rather, you would learn to be the rabbi himself – and his whole goal in teaching you would be to make you to become him. He kept you with his other students, and you would be following him and imitating him all around the clock. And what did Jesus say? ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men’ – just like Me. Jesus said I am supposed to make you Me!”

Tom paused and took a drink. “Don’t misunderstand this. This doesn’t make you gain a superior reputation. This is not elitism. Don’t even go there.” He looked at us and paused again. “This is so intense that Jesus says this is a daily thing – take up your cross daily and follow Me. Day by day, take the challenge and move on it.”

It stopped me in my tracks, because it brought to mind what Bobby had said earlier that day, how we had just got our feet planted, we were standing…

… and Tom is saying that staying still is no good.

He reiterated the truth of Jesus: move. Move.

This discipleship challenge, brother, it’s got us to taking steps. Moving in the right direction. Running towards…

…towards what?

Towards cancer.

I mean it.

You see, there’s a transition going on across our assembly.

We first were frozen with numbness and, might I say, a little fear at this horrid disease.

But in truth, Tom is sharing the cancer with us. He is openly showing us his mortality so that we may take a look at our own. In viewing our weakness, we may then be made strong in Christ.

So what we are doing is running toward cancer. Looking at cancer with a new perspective. Embracing cancer and thanking it for the lesson we learn. Standing next to cancer and seeing its perspective of life and death here on Earth.

And, oh, this new attitude is making changes. When a man sees his own mortality – even if it is demonstrated through the life of another – it has a profound effect. It thrashes the Believer with humility, but then it gives the Christian a new boldness, and that boldness is to strip away the selfishness of the American view of Christianity and take on the servant attitude of the Heavenly Jesus.

Oh, we’re not there yet, by any means. But at least we’re moving our feet.

Tom is the track coach by example. He’s on the course, running. He’s ahead of us, seeing the Finish Line more clearly than us, so he leans back and continues to urge us to pick up the pace.

We’re steadily getting the rhythm. The muscles are stretching and sometimes it’s painful, but gradually the legs are getting in shape. We’re learning how to run.

For the glory of God.

Soli Deo gloria.

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